Six Migrants Freeze, Greece Mulls Longer Fence on Turkish Border

FILE - A child plays with a cat as migrants wait for transport following a rescue operation by a Frontex patrol vessel at the port of Skala Sikamias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, early Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. Migrants most from Afghanistan were rescued by a Frontex patrol vessel as they were trying to cross a part of the Aegean sea, from Turkey to Greece, on a plastic boat. More than 12,000 people — more than four times the site's capacity — are currently housed in the camp of Moria on Lesbos island and just outside its perimeter following a spike in migrant arrivals over the summer. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ALEXANDROUPOLIS – Unable to stem the tide of refugees and migrants coming by land or sea, Greece’s New Democracy government is reportedly considering extending a fence on the land border along the perilous Evros River to keep them out.

The plan, said Kathimerini, would be to block off the entire border with another iron fence that hasn’t worked so far to keep them from coming, a number drowning in the river trying to get across and six dying of exposure in the area in recent days during a cold snap. 

Pavlos Pavlidis, a coroner in the northeastern town of Alexandroupoli, said the victims were four men and two women, all under 30 years old. Their identities and nationalities were unknown, although the two women appeared to be from Africa, he said.

Five of the bodies were found over the weekend and the sixth was found Dec. 5, Pavlidis said. The bodies of the two women were found near the Evros River, which flows along much of the land border between Greece and Turkey. The men were found in hilly terrain.

All were believed to have entered illegally from Turkey. Although most of the migrants entering Greece from Turkey use the sea route, in small, unseaworthy boats provided by smuggling gangs, many opt for the Evros land corridor.
Extending the fence, especially in winter, won’t be an easy task as the Evros stretches for over 230 kilometers (143 miles) on the Greek side of the border and if the river overflows during the winter, a frequent occurrence, it could bring down the fence, the paper said.

A similar steel-enforced fence put up by Bulgaria covering more than 250 kilometers (155.3 miles) along its border with Turkey has proved to keep out refugees and migrants with the European Union closing its borders to them, dumping the problem largely on Greece, which is overwhelmed with more than 96,000, including some 34,700 on islands near Turkey which lets human traffickers keep sending them.

They had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria’s civil war, but also economic migrants from sub-Saharan African looking for work and a better life in the EU but left only with the option of seeking sanctuary in Greece.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to flood the EU with millions more of them, through Greek islands and Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis has responded by ordering the transfer of 20,000 off islands to the mainland, speeding the processing of asylum applications and sending as many back to Turkey, which has accepted only 2,000 since a 2016 swap deal with the EU that’s effectively been suspended.

More than 44,000 refugees and migrants came to Greek islands in the aftermath of New Democracy ousting the Radical Left SYRIZA in July 7 snap elections, with no signs of a let-up as Erdogan is apparently using them as bargaining chips to get concessions from the bloc.

They are often seen in groups crossing the Egnatia Highway and passing through the villages in the area – in particular the region of Rodopi, riling local residents who don’t want them, with many migrants trying to find shelter in warehouses and farm buildings.

That has sometimes led to fires destroying buildings and equipment as well as a rise in thefts and petty crime, with no account of whether it was done by migrants trying to survive as the EU has hesitated over what to do.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)