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Fence not a long term solution for migration problem - EU Commission

posted 3 Jan 2011, 07:58 by Mpelembe   [ updated 3 Jan 2011, 08:01 ]

The European Commission rejects a Greek plan to build a fence on its border with Turkey to stem massive immigration.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM REUTERS - The European Commission said on Monday (January 3) plans by Greece to build a fence along its border with Turkey would not solve the country's immigration problem.

Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis told the Athens News Agency on Friday (December 31)

that Greece plans to build a wall along its 206 km long border with Turkey to keep out unwanted migrants.

The Athens News Agency quoted Papoutsis as saying that Greece is at its wit's end when it comes to illegal immigrants coming through Turkey.

The EU border agency says Greece is the only EU border where illegal immigration went up in 2010.

The number of illegal migrants coming through the Greek land border with Turkey jumped by an annual 369 percent to over 31,000 in the 9 months to September according to Frontex figures.

The EU recognises that the debt-choked country is struggling to cope with such swelling numbers. But it asked Athens to find other ways of stemming the flow.

Frontex said in November that the main problem was the lack of cooperation between Greece and Turkey. Greece blames Turkey for not doing enough to stop people entering their country. Meanwhile Turkey's refusal to take back illegal immigrants crossing from its territory has encouraged would-be migrants to take that route and view Greece as an easy springboard into the EU.

''We have a clear and unprecedented increase of the number of illegal migrants trying to enter through the border between Turkey and Greece. This of course creates a pressure on a country which already has had a lot of arrivals over the last few years and which already faces a great migratory pressure. This being said, structural, long term solutions need to be found,'' European Commission spokesman Michele Cercone said.

''Of courses fences and walls have proven in the past to be really short term measures that don't really help addressing more and managing the migratory challenges in a more consolidated and structural way,'' added Cercone.

Papoutsis compared the planned fence to the one built along the Mexico-US border - a 1,050km wall that runs through parts of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas and backed up by cameras, radar surveillance, vehicle patrols and drones.

Frontex and the EU sent special rapid border intervention teams last November to the Greek-Turkish border after Greece called for help. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, French Immigration Minister Eric Besson, Frontex director Ilkka Laitinen and Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis saw the overcrowded holding centres set up for illegal immigrants along the border.

The European Commission last month said it will extend its Rapid Intervention Border Teams mission - known as Rabit - until March this year. It also plans to spend 9.8 million euros over the next 6 months to ease conditions in Greek migrant camps.

Greece has come under fire for dragging its feet in processing asylum applications and neglecting the migrants by letting them linger in unsanitary holding centres.

Greece is in the process of creating a special asylum service to deal with scores of asylum applications and another service to deal with arrivals and deportations.

Nine out of 10 illegal immigrants use the Greek crossing which amounts to an average 200 people a day who try to enter Greece.

Turkey is the main transit country for illegal migration into the EU as Greece is the first entry point from the east, with many immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia entering the country illegally from Turkey.

Greek authorities have said Turkey needs to improve cooperation on bilateral repatriation agreements and accept the return of more immigrants.