War of words as Greece erects border wall to deter migrants

By Elena Becatoros

Greece said this weekend it had completed a 40km fence on its border with Turkey and a new surveillance system was in place to stop possible asylum seekers from trying to reach Europe following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

Events in Afghanistan have fuelled fears in the EU of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis, when nearly a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond crossed to Greece from Turkey before travelling north to wealthier states.

Greece was on the frontline of that crisis and has said its border forces are on alert to make sure it does not become Europe’s gateway again.

The Afghanistan crisis had created “possibilities for migrant flows”, Greece’s citizens’ protection minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said after visiting the border region of Evros on Friday with the head of the armed forces.

“We cannot wait, passively, for the possible impact. Our borders will remain safe and inviolable.”

Mr Chrisochoidis said the extension to the existing 12.5km fence had been completed in recent days, as well as a hi-tech, automated electronic monitoring system.

Migrant arrivals to Greece, either by land or by sea, have overall slowed to a trickle since 2016, when the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to stem the flows in exchange for financial support.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan discussed Afghanistan on the phone this weekend, with Mr Erdogan saying Afghanistan and Iran — a key route for Afghans into Turkey — should be supported or a new migration wave was “inevitable”, a statement from his office said.

Greece and Turkey, Nato allies and historic rivals, have long been at odds over migrant issues and competing territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean. Greece has bolstered border defences since March 2020, when Turkey announced its frontier to Europe was open and encouraged thousands of migrants to head to the Greek side, leading to scenes of chaos.

Athens has hardened its migration policy in recent months by fencing off its migrant camps and launching EU-wide tenders to build two closed-type facilities on the islands of Samos and Lesbos, close to Turkey.

It has in the recent past stopped people entering its waters, though it denies widely reported allegations of so-called “pushbacks".

Anti-migrant sentiment has been running high in Turkey as the country grapples with economic woes, including high unemployment, that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. There is little appetite in the country to take in more people.

“We need to remind our European friends of this fact: Europe — which has become the centre of attraction for millions of people — cannot stay out of  problem by harshly sealing its borders to protect the safety and wellbeing of its citizens,” Erdogan said.

“Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse,” he said.


© Associated Press