Greece calls for border action

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Series Details 28.02.08
Publication Date 28/02/2008
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The rise of illegal migration to Greece is prompting calls for more EU funding, writes Judith Crosbie.

Greece intends to urge the rest of the EU to set up a European coastguard and increase funding for border management as Athens tackles a recent sharp rise in illegal migration, Greece's deputy government spokesman said.

Greek Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos will raise the issue with his EU counterparts over the coming months when they meet, said the government's deputy spokesman Evangelos Antonaros.

"We are going to raise the issue again and ask them to take decisions," he said.

"We would like to have a common European policy as far as the protection of the outer borders of the European Union is concerned, especially in the south, and to go ahead with the establishment of a European coastguard," he added.

Since 2005, illegal migration has increased by more than 40%, with figures since last summer causing particular concern.

According to statistics supplied to Frontex, the EU's border agency, by the Hellenic coastguard, last September 4,203 migrants entered Greece from Turkey including 2,975 by sea and 1,228 by land; in September 2006 1,721 migrants entered the country, 514 by sea and 1,207 by land.

The migrants include people from Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Somalia and Bangladesh.

Ilkka Laitinen, Frontex's director, has acknowledged this route into the EU is now the most "concerning trend".

By contrast, Spain, Italy and Malta recorded decreases in migrants reaching their borders between 2006 and 2007, though figures are still high by pre-2005 standards.

"The countries of the south cannot and should not handle this by themselves. This is a problem which is aimed mainly at the individual countries of the European Union where these people are mainly heading to and Greece is not one of them," said Antonaros.

The issue could affect Greece's relationship with Turkey since a bilateral agreement compels Ankara to take illegal migrants back. Antonaros said that Greece was asking for "a stronger response" from its neighbour. Turkey is currently taking back only 10% of the migrants who pass through.

The UN refugee agency is concerned, however, that people reaching Greece from Turkey are not being given the chance to claim asylum. The agency says that there is often no way to process claims at the border posts, no language interpretation and no legal services provided to those in need of protection.

The number of people seeking asylum has also increased dramatically in Greece. Last year, 25,113 people claimed asylum, while in 2006 the number was 12,267 and in 2005 it was 9,050, according to figures from the UN refugee agency. The rate of asylum recognition was 0.02%, the agency said.

Human rights groups are also worried about alleged abuses towards asylum seekers and migrants. The Norwegian Immigration Appeal Board on 7 February announced that it would no longer send asylum seekers who had initially passed through Greece back to have their applications heard there, as is allowed under EU rules, because of "possible violations of the rights of asylum seekers".

Antonaros said the increased numbers of migrants and the fact that many were landing on small Greek islands made it difficult to set up enough appropriate reception centres.

"I assure you that if it is established that anybody has been maltreated by any member of the Greek police or Greek coastguard, those responsible will face severe consequences," he said.

The rise of illegal migration to Greece is prompting calls for more EU funding, writes Judith Crosbie.

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