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EU Patrols to Battle Illegal Migration

Iranian refugees sit at the site of a hunger strike to demand that Greek authorities process the asylum applications of Iranian immigrants in the country,outside the UN refugee agency's offices in Athens (File Photo - 19 Aug 2010)

On Sunday a Greek Minister asked the European Union to deploy immigration patrols on the Greek-Turkish border.

European Commission spokesperson Michele Cercone told VOA the EU wants to meet that request.

"This is the first time we received such a request and we are trying to respond as quickly and as effectively as we can," said Cercone.

The European Commission says it will send out "rapid intervention response teams" along the border between Greece and Turkey. The teams were set up in 2007 but this is the first time they will be activated. They will be coordinated by the EU border agency FRONTEX and will be under Greek authority.

FRONTEX has already been helping Greece deal with clandestine migrants who arrive by sea. But it says migrants are increasingly arriving in Greece by overland routes.

It says 90 percent of Europe's illegal immigrants use Greece as an entry point.

Last week UN human rights expert said detention centers holding migrants in Greece were overcrowded and filthy and described the situation as "inhumane and degrading".

Cercone says alongside help from the EU, Greece has to do more to ensure that the migrants' human rights are respected.

"We expect that the Greek authorities are also able to react swiftly, first of all implementing a proper asylum system and second in guaranteeing the international obligation in terms of respect of fundamental rights for all people crossing the Greek border," added Cercone.

John Nomikos is from the Athens-based Research Institute for European and American studies. He says the EU needs to help combat clandestine migration in Greece because it affects the whole of Europe.

"Most of these people they come here, they want to stay for some time, but the final direction is to go to Italy, to go to UK, to go to Netherlands, to go to Germany. They don't want to stay here," he said. "But Greece works right now as a buffer zone for this uncontrollable flow of illegal immigrants."

FRONTEX says during the second quarter of 2010 half of the migrants detected trying to enter the EU were Albanians looking for seasonal work in Greece. It says the other half were migrants who wanted to travel through Greece en route to other European countries.