Παρασκευή, 17 Φεβρουαρίου 2012


At the beginning of this week, Civil Protection and Public Order Greek Minister Christos Papoutsis said that a 10-kilometre fence will be built between March and September 2012 in the Evros region, at the border between Greece and Turkey.
The fence shall be 4 meters high, topped with razor wire and coupled with a network of fixed night-vision cameras providing real-time video to a new command centre. Should we wish to have an idea of what this will look like, we just have to look to Melilla, Spanish border with Morocco in the African continent: the description sounds familiar (and a picture can be found here:

The Evros region is unluckily quite well known for being the crossing point into the EU for thousands of asylum seekers namely from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh coming via Turkey. The Greek-Turkish border is for the most part a 180-kilometre-long river (called Evros in Greek and Meric in Turkish) patrolled in part by Frontex, the controversial EU borders’ control agency. Near the city of Orestiada, the river loops east and runs for about 12 kilometres on the Turkish side, with the land border between the two countries located in this loop. The new fence, which Turkey’s government has not opposed (and is a rare historical example of cooperation between the two Governments), will block exactly that short stretch of dry land between the two countries.
A minor detail is that the construction of this fence will cost 3 to 5 millions euros: an important amount for every country, an absurd amount for a country like Greece in a time when it’s suffering a deep financial crisis that might even lead it to default. But Greek Government had found a solution: the EU could pay for it!
Greek government lodged a request but happily enough the spokesman for EU Home Affairs commissioner Cecilia Malstroem, said that ”the Commission has decided not to follow up on the request because it considers it pointless.” Should this not be clear enough, he added that fences and walls are ”short-term measures”.
I guess this declaration has quite upset Minister Papoustis, who is besides a former European commissioner. I couldn’t welcome it more. A new wall is an horrible symbol (hadn’t we welcomed so much the fall of another wall?), puts at serious risk thousands of lives (Melilla is again to be looked at), prevents asylum seekers from finding a way out (are we not feeling at least a little bit ashamed for this?) and furthermore is even not effective: haven’t we learnt that when we close a path another one is to be open some kilometres away?
Indeed, the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, which killed almost 1,500 people last year, makes the Greek-Turkish crossing a more attractive alternative. And the Mediterranean way had become attractive after Frontex had blocked the Canary islands’ way. The history of migration routes is just this: passing from one route to the other, changing strategies to counter Governments interventions.
Only a silly person could think that such an intervention will stop irregular border crossing: it will just move it some miles away. It will just force people to yet more dangerous routes. Hundreds of Afghani are already coming to Italy by boat in order to avoid transit through Greece. Families fleeing violence in Afghanistan and Syria might try to pass through the western Balkans or Ukraine. Press reported that three men entered Greece last Monday at the point where the fence is to be built; they said they had fled the violence in Syria and one of the three said that they had been walking for seven days and that he hoped to reach an uncle in Hungary.
As Human Rights Watch correctly said, the real problem is not the flow of people but the fact that Greece does not have the capacity to cope with EU asylum rules. And the so-called Dublin regulation (see my post of last month) makes it even worse.
The parliamentary group of the European United Left is in favour of helping Greece cooping with its gaps in the asylum system, but not of helping them build yet another shame in migration’s management history. We are in favour of a deep reform of the Dublin system, that would relief both asylum seekers and border’s countries. And we have immediately proposed a delegation of the European parliament to Evros that will hopefully help the Greek government to change its mind.
Chiara Tamburini, lawyer and political advisor