Euros (Greece) (AFP)
As the sun sinks into the wetlands northeast of Evros, Greece’s river border with Turkey, two Greek guards board a boat to begin their daily search for irregular migrants.
Howling sirens and flamingos flying above their heads, the guards pass the remains of previous crossings – plastic canoes, hewn and abandoned on small islets of sand in the middle of the river.
It is in this area that the Greek state has chosen to deploy a new arsenal of anti-migration measures, including cameras, radar and a 40-kilometer (25-mile) by five-meter (16-foot) steel fence. high.
“An automated border system with thermal cameras and sensors is under construction and almost completed to cover the entire border, from the Evros delta to the Bulgarian border,” police officer Dimosthenis Kamargios told AFP the regional border and migration management center.
“A new, modern and strong steel fence is also under construction. “
“Our goal is to have an early warning before contact with the border,” he said.
But since the entire border region is around 200 kilometers long, the Greek police forces are also bringing in additional resources – drones and long-range acoustic devices, also known as sound cannons, which are already controversial.
The truck-mounted devices emit high-decibel sound waves at migrants in an attempt to deter river crossings, but rights groups denounce them as harmful.
Kamargios said the acoustic system was acquired after a major border crisis early last year.
# photo1Tens of thousands of migrants flocked to Greece after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in February 2020 he would let migrants seeking to reach the European Union pass through Turkey.
Erdogan said his country could no longer host refugees from the Syrian conflict as it was already hosting more than 3.5 million.
However, the European Commission has expressed concern about the new deterrence.
Commission spokesperson Adalbert Jahnz said this week that Brussels was “in contact with the Greek authorities” for more information.
Kamargios insists that the new system is “a long range hearing aid, not a cannon”.
“The system was acquired after the crisis of last year (…) in case we attempted a large-scale entry. It has not been used yet, ”he said.
– Gaps remain –
More than 170 asylum seekers and 40 suspected smugglers have been arrested in the Evros region in the past three weeks, police said.
Greece’s Migration Ministry insists the country’s stricter migration policies have led to a dramatic drop in new flows.
New arrivals were down 73% in the first four months of the year compared to the equivalent period last year, the ministry said in May.
But the reduction coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, and few see it as lasting.
# photo2Local farmers say they regularly see migrants crossing the border into areas not covered by the fence.
“My land is right by the river, near the end of the fence. I see small groups of people coming in almost every day. This situation will not end, ”said Tassos, a 55-year-old resident.
– Stolen and beaten –
At the end of May, Greek police located a group of 75 Afghans who said they were beaten by Bulgarian border guards and sent to Greece.
Speaking to Dutch public broadcaster VPRO, they said men in uniform took their cellphones, documents and money to Bulgaria.
Most of them did not have shoes and several had bruises on their faces and other parts of the body, in addition to dog bite marks, according to Dutch journalists.
Some said they were trying to enter again after being pushed back to Turkey by Greek forces.
The Greek government has persistently denied that its border forces engage in illegal push-backs.
But Dimitris Koros, an attorney for the Greek Refugee Council’s support group, said push-backs in Evros have become “common practice” in border management over the past five years.
Rights groups say they have testimonies attesting to dozens of pushbacks from Greece.
In March, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Greece “can do more” to investigate the matter.
© 2021 AFP