Greece will further seal its land borders with rival neighbor Turkey, tripling the length of a rising fence built to prevent illegal migrants from sneaking in. The plan comes as Greece faces a sudden surge in refugees, both along its land and sea borders, as relations with its centuries-old enemy deteriorate.
Greece began expanding the security fence along its rough border with Turkey last year, a decade after Athens initially built a 13-kilometer fence in the region to stem the tide of illegal migration.
But a sudden surge in refugee flows has now worried authorities.
“There is a clear effort by Turkey to instrumentalize migrants to create a crisis with Greece,” said Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi. And the numbes, he added, speak for themselves.
While the influx has dropped dramatically from the 1 million mainly Syrians who stormed the country during the 2015 refugee crisis, an estimated 1,000 migrants make illegal crossings every day.
This is about 20% higher than last year.
Hundreds of additional border guards have been deployed along the so-called Evros border in recent weeks to reinforce patrols. But with fears of a major migration push looming, Mitarachi said Greece wasted no time in moving forward with plans to add 80 additional kilometers of barbed wire and steel to the existing 40-kilometer fence.
How soon the project will start is still unclear. But until it gets underway, Greece will also have to deal with increased migration flows along its sea borders … mainly in the massive Aegean waterway that divides Greece and Turkey.
Nikos Spanos, an admiral of the Greek coastguard, spelled out the threats posed by this latest boom.
“Let’s not make fun of ourselves,” he said. “Turkey regulates all migration flows to Greece and Europe … and if the floodgates continue to open, it will be very difficult for us to stop this influx from flooding many Greek islands.”
In June, officials from the Ministry of Migration counted nearly three thousand migrants who tried to cross from Turkey illegally to Greece in a total of 82 attempts. Only 72 asylum seekers managed to evade interception.
With relations between Greece and longtime enemy Turkey declining to their lowest point in years, authorities here are preparing for the worst: Massive inflows like those seen in 2015 in the biggest migration push to Europe since World War II.
Although members of NATO, Greece and Turkey have been vying for air and sea rights in the Aegean Sea for decades. In recent weeks, however, Turkey has threatened to challenge Greece’s sovereignty, claiming that more than 100 Aegean islands are its own, not Greece’s.
Ankara is also increasingly accusing Athens of building a military presence on some of them in violation of international treaties, allegations that Greece vehemently denies.
Government sources told VOA Greece would raise what he called Turkey’s provocative stance at a meeting of NATO leaders in Spain this week.