Concrete walls and drones: Greek plans for decried refugee camps

Concrete walls and drones: Greek plans for decried refugee camps

Athens, Greece – Parwana Amiri first noticed the concrete walls built around her refugee camp on the Greek mainland a few weeks ago.
“It was a feeling that when we were sleeping they closed our wings,” the 16-year-old Afghan refugee told Al Jazeera.

“I have a feeling that we won’t even be able to see the cars pass the road and that we won’t be able to see the grass outside in the wild. We will see the walls around us, it is a very suffocating sensation.

Gray walls, three meters (10 feet) high, are being built around the Ritsona refugee camp near Athens and there are plans to build walls around 24 other camps on the Greek mainland.

Authorities told camp residents that the walls were for their own protection, Amiri said.

“They tell us it’s because of your safety,” she said. “They say it won’t change your life.”

Despite assurances that the daily lives of camp residents will not change, a tender, issued by the government, reveals important steps to amplify security measures in refugee camps across Greece.

Drones that patrol from the sky, magnetic doors with built-in thermal imaging cameras, x-ray devices and security cameras at entry and exit points are just a few tools that are planned for implementation.

It is also proposed to close the gates of the camp around 9 p.m. to prevent people from leaving, according to the Migration Ministry.

According to the call, these surveillance systems will be installed in 39 camps across the mainland and the Greek islands; 75% of the costs will be covered by the European Internal Security Fund.

The walls alone cost around 28.4 million euros ($ 34.8 million) and are largely funded by the European Commission.

Tineke Strik, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the Verts / ALE group, told Al Jazeera: “We cannot accept that EU money is used to build concrete walls around refugee camps.

“Instead, we need to invest in a better future for these people. Putting walls around the camps only leads to less integration into the local community, less monitoring by NGOs and journalists and worse conditions in the camps. It is in fact very simple: being a refugee should not lead to imprisonment.

Camp gates at some sites will close at night, preventing people from leaving [Alexandros Avramidis/Al Jazeera]

Some residents of the confined camps described an increased sense of imprisonment.

“I am a human being, I don’t need a wall. They make me feel like a prisoner, ”said Diyar, 36, from Iraq.

He has lived in Diavata camp in Thessaloniki for three years.

“Some are afraid [but] some say it’s great because we’ll be protected. “

The wall around Diavata, like Ritsona, is almost finished.

Amiri fears the walls will deepen the divisions between refugees and residents.

“What worries me is that I am a student, I go to school [outside the camp] and what will the students’ perspective be? What will they say about us? They will learn from their parents that Ritsona is a place surrounded by walls, that it is a closed place and that we come from such a place.

Petra Molnar, associate director of the Canada-based Refugee Law Lab think tank, told Al Jazeera that the new security systems are in line with “a dangerous global trend of strengthening the border industrial complex with invasive surveillance technologies. and physical walls ”.

She was particularly concerned about the planned use of drones.

“Autonomous technologies like drones are also creating a panopticon of surveillance, with migration management increasingly turning to technological solutions rather than human responses that recognize the complexity of people’s migration journeys,” he added. she declared.

The Asylum and Migration Ministry told Al Jazeera that the decision to ‘enclose’ the camp with walls had been approved by the European Commission, while a first part of the project had been implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“The main objective of the fence project and the integrated digital management system for electronic and physical security is the protection of local communities and the protection of residents,” said a spokesperson for the ministry.

“It is the necessary supervision of structures, security, prevention of delinquent behavior, fires and other unforeseen factors. This is the maximum possible control over who enters and leaves structures. Greece initially installed barbed wire fences, but the inhabitants of the structures have repeatedly and continuously destroyed and continue to destroy the barbed wire fences. That is why it was decided to modernize the fences.

The ministry added that everyone, including residents and NGO workers, will have to go through security at the entrances to the camp. Drones, they said, would only be used in the event of “unforeseen events”.

Greece is home to thousands of refugees and migrants [File: Giannis Papanikos/AP Photo]

IOM told Al Jazeera that the decision to build walls around the camps was taken by the Greek ministry and that it supports the project.

“The raison d’être of the walled perimeter is also to increase the safety of residents by discouraging unauthorized persons from entering or occupying spaces reserved for asylum seekers, while maintaining freedom of movement for its residents. . The vast majority of open camps in Greece have always been fenced with walls / wire netting or a combination of both.

IOM said it was only involved in the “fence” project and not in the use of the drone equipment.

As the prospect of aerial drone patrols and increased surveillance looms, people are playing volleyball outside the Diavata camp, which is now almost completely walled off.

Diyar echoes the sentiments of many people living in camps across Greece.

“I just want a house,” he says.


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