News / Europe

Greece Plans to Build Controversial Border Wall

A Greek soldier patrols near the northeastern Greek village of Nea Vyssa, in the Greek-Turkish borders, 5 Nov 2010 (file photo)
A Greek soldier patrols near the northeastern Greek village of Nea Vyssa, in the Greek-Turkish borders, 5 Nov 2010 (file photo)
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Henry Ridgwell

The Greek government says it plans to build a fence along part of its border with Turkey to try to stop illegal immigrants from crossing into the country.

Greek authorities say more than 100,000 illegal immigrants arrived in the country last year.  Most crossed the Evros River that separates Greece and Turkey, and the European Union from the outside world.

The Greek government says those numbers can no longer be tolerated and has announced plans to construct an eight-mile long fence along the most vulnerable part of the border.  

But the announcement was met with a warning from European Union Commission spokesperson Michele Cercone.

"Fences and walls have in the past proven to be really short term measures that do not really help addressing and managing the migratory pressures in more consolidated and structural way," said Cercone.

Many of the migrants travel thousands of miles overland from countries like Afghanistan, Iran and even Myanmar to seek asylum in the European Union.  Others come from countries in north Africa and south Asia hoping to find work.

In October, VOA spoke to asylum seeker Wajid Sharifi, who walked and hitchhiked the thousands of miles from his home in Afghanistan to Greece four years ago.

"It is very difficult [journey]," said Sharifi.  "Especially from Iran to Greece, you have to walk many nights on the mountain, if it is snowing or if it is raining you have to keep continuing your journey and especially when you are crossing the border between Turkey and Greece, you have to cross the river."

Greece is struggling to cope with the huge number of migrants.  Every week at the center for asylum processing in Athens, thousands of migrants battle to get to the front of the queue.  The backlog is estimated at 45,000 cases.  U.N. Refugee Agency spokesman Måns Nyberg calls it a humanitarian crisis.

"The main problem behind the so-called immigration crisis is that there is no coherent EU policy on immigration," said Nyberg.  "Countries like Greece who are being overwhelmed by flows of irregular immigrants may have to resort to desperate measures like this idea of a fence."

Meanwhile, Turkey says it is seeking more information on the Greek plans to construct a fence along the shared border.  One Turkish official added that all physical barriers are surmountable.

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