PYTHIO, Greece (AP) — Greece is stepping up security on its porous land border with Turkey, used by thousands of migrants to clandestinely enter Europe, with extra guards supported by a network of powerful surveillance cameras, officials said Friday.
The country is struggling with a surge of immigration through Turkey, and is now the main point of entry to Europe.
Greek island migrant camps, which receive most new arrivals, are dysfunctional and severely overcrowded, while this week details emerged of a plan to set up a floating barrier to block migrant boats in the Aegean Sea.
On the northeastern land border with Turkey, that mostly follows the Evros River, army and police have launched joint patrols while police are hiring 400 more border guards to deploy locally, officials said.
“We have already started the joint patrols,” said Ilias Akidis, police union head in the nearby town of Orestiada. “And installation of the 11 surveillance cameras along the river (will soon be) implemented.”
Greece has already erected a 10-kilometer (six-mile) fence along part of the border where the river veers away, leaving dry land that migrants could easily walk across.
The cameras will be erected on 50-meter (165-foot) high stands, and will each be able to monitor a 10-kilometer stretch of the 200-kilometer (125-mile) border.
“The cameras will cover what we can’t fully monitor with personnel in the field … because it’s a long stretch of river,” Akidis said.
Greece currently has the highest number of migrant arrivals in Europe, with about 75,000 last year — including some 15,000 on the Evros, according to U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. While that’s still far from the nearly 1 million arrivals of 2015, at the peak of Europe’s immigration crisis, it’s 50% up from 2018.
And — unlike in 2015 when nearly all continued to Europe’s prosperous heartland — most end up trapped in Greece following Balkan border closures. More than 112,000 people are stuck in Greece, according to UNHCR.
Evros residents say the flow is constant.
“I believe that in 2019 there were more (arrivals) than in 2015,” said Haris Theoharidis, former mayor of the village of Pythio. “There aren’t families coming across any more. Now they’re all groups of 20-90 people, all men aged under 30 … Most say they want to continue their journey to Italy.”
Those unwilling to risk detection at seaports for Italy-bound ferries pay smuggling rings to get them across the North Macedonian or Albanian border. On Friday, police in Thessaloniki rescued four Afghan men trapped in a ship’s container with television sets from China, which had been to travel by train through North Macedonia on to Hungary.
The men said they spent three days in the container, having broken into it in Thessaloniki, the main destination for migrants entering from Evros. They made it to the North Macedonian border but the container was sent back to Thessaloniki by guards who noticed it wasn’t properly sealed.
By COSTAS KANTOURIS Associated Press