Greece is set to further seal its land frontiers with rival neighbor Turkey, tripling the length of a soaring fence built to block illegal migrants trying to enter. The plan comes as Greece faces a sudden surge in refugees, both along its land and sea frontiers, as relations with its age-old foe deteriorate.
Greece began extending the security fence along its rugged border with Turkey last year, a decade after Athens initially built a 13-kilometer fence in the region to stem the tide of illegal migration.
But a sudden surge in refugee flows has authorities concerned now.
“There is a clear attempt by Turkey to instrumentalize migrants in creating a crisis with Greece,” said Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi. And the numbers, he added, speak for themselves.
While inflows dropped dramatically from the 1 million mainly Syrians who spilled into the country during the 2015 refugee crisis, an estimated 1,000 migrants make illegal crossings every day.
That's about 20% higher than last year.
Hundreds of additional border guards have been deployed along the so-called Evros frontier in recent weeks to bolster patrols. But with fears of a bigger migratory push looming, Mitarachi said Greece is wasting no time in moving ahead with plans to add 80 additional kilometers of barbed wire and steel to the existing 40-kilometer fence.
How soon the project will begin remains unclear. But until it gets under way, Greece must deal with heightened migratory flows along its sea borders too... mainly in the massive Aegean waterway that divides Greece and Turkey.
Nikos Spanos, an admiral with the Greek Coast Guard, spelled out the threats posed by this latest surge.
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “Turkey regulates all migratory flows into Greece and Europe... and if the floodgates open farther, it will be very difficult for us to block these inflows from inundating many Greek islands.”
In June, Migration Ministry officials counted nearly three thousand migrants who tried to illegally cross into Greece from Turkey in a total of 82 attempts made. Only 72 asylum seekers managed to evade interception.
With relations between Greece and longtime foe Turkey sinking to their lowest point in years, authorities here are preparing for the worst: Massive inflows like those seen in 2015 in the biggest migratory push to Europe since World War II.
Although they are NATO members, Greece and Turkey have been competing over air and sea rights in the Aegean for decades. In recent weeks though, Turkey has threatened to challenge Greece's sovereignty, claiming that more than 100 Aegean islands are its own, not Greece's.
Ankara is also increasingly accusing Athens of building a military presence on some of them in breach of international treaties, allegations that Greece strongly denies.
Government sources told VOA Greece will raise what it calls Turkey’s provocative stance at a meeting of NATO leaders this week in Spain.