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Europe's borders Immigration in Europe

January 3, 2011

Greece scaled back its plans for a border fence with Turkey to stem illegal immigration, following critical remarks from the EU and human rights organizations over the weekend.

illegal immigrants behind barbed wire.
Last year, about 200 people illegally crossed from Turkey to Greece every dayImage: picture alliance/dpa

Original plans announced by the Greek government over the weekend called for a 206-kilometer-long fence similar to the one erected by the United States along its frontier with Mexico to curb large-scale illegal immigration.

New plans released on Monday by the Citizen Protection Ministry indicated modifications to a 12.5-kilometer-long and three-meter-high fence along a weak entry point on the border, near the Evros river and the town of Orestiada.

But the shortened fence could still have the desired effect, Deutsche Welle's Athens correspondent Janni Papadimitriou said.

Greek police officers patrol near Orestiada
Greek police officers patrol near OrestiadaImage: Picture-Allaince/dpa

He said the Evros river, dangerous to cross especially during the winter months, formed more than 200 kilometers of the borderline between Greece and Turkey - except for that crucial spot now designated for a fence.

"Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis hopes that it will be easy for Greek police officers to catch refugees trying to walk around the fence," Papadimitriou said.

Fences don't solve problems

Border management is largely the preserve of the member state concerned, according to the European Commission in Brussels. But its Home Affairs Spokesman Michele Cercone stressed that the Commission wanted to see Greece overhaul its asylum system rather than build walls.

"Fences and walls have, in the past, proven to be really short-term measures that don't help to address and manage migratory challenges in a more consolidated and structural way," he said.

Christos Papoutsis
Minister Papoutsis: Greece cannot take it anymoreImage: AP

Amnesty International (AI) condemned Greek plans to build a border fence to Turkey as a violation of human rights. Should the EU allow the barrier's construction, AI expert Wolfgang Grenz said in a German newspaper interview on Monday the union would essentially be allowing a violation of its own human rights principles.

Amnesty critical of the EU

"It's clearly a European confession of failure," Grenz said and appealed to the EU not to leave the nations on its outer borders alone with their refugee problems.

The Greek land border with Turkey has become a main route for illegal migrants to enter the European Union. Around 80 percent of illegal immigrants in the EU arrive via Greece, and many then seek to reach Italy via ferry.

In November, Europe's border agency Frontex deployed more than 200 guards along the Evros river to patrol the border in cooperation with Greek police. The agency said that has led to a 44 percent drop in the number of illegal entries.

Author: Dagmar Breitenbach (dpa, AP, AFP)
Editor: Nicole Goebel