ATHENS — Trying to deal with some 50,000 refugees and migrants six years after they began arriving, mostly through Turkey, Greece is erecting 3-meter high (9.8 feet) high concrete walls around mainland camps holding them.
The first are going up around the Ritsona camp north of Athens and there are plans to do the same for 24 other camps on the mainland although there are also detention centers on five Aegean islands near Turkey which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending more.
“It was a feeling that when we were sleeping, they closed our wings,” 16-year-old Afghan refugee Parwana Amiri told Al Jazeera, which reported on the construction of the walls.
“I feel that we will not even be able to see the cars passing the road and will not be able to see the grass outside in nature. We will see the walls around us, it is a very suffocating feeling,” Amiri said.
Authorities have told camp residents that the walls are for their own protection, Amiri claimed. “They are telling us it’s because of your safety,” she said. “They say that it will not change anything about your life.”
The Ministry of Asylum and Migration told Al Jazeera the decision to “fence” off the camp with walls was agreed with the European Commission and was backed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“The main purpose of both the fencing project and the Integrated Digital Electronic and Physical Security Management System is the protection of local communities and the protection of residents,” a ministry spokesperson said.
Critics though said part of the intent is to isolate the refugees and migrants who have to wait two years or longer for asylum applications to be processed, with human rights groups saying conditions in the camps are often inhumane.
There were also be drones above the camps, magnetic gates with integrated thermographic cameras, X-ray machines and security cameras at the entry and exit points, the report said, and camps will be closed at 9 p.m.
A bid for tenders called for surveillance systems to be installed in 39 camps across the mainland and the Greek islands with 75 percent of the costs covered by the European Internal Security Fund.
The walls alone cost about 28.4 million euros ($34.63 million) and largely funded by the European Commission. The IOM said it was involved only in the “fencing” project and not in any use of drone equipment.
Tineke Strik, a European Member of Parliament (MEP) from the Greens/EFA Group, told Al Jazeera: “We cannot accept that EU money is being used to build concrete walls around refugee camps,” even for protection.
“Instead we need to invest in a better future for these people. Putting walls around camps only leads to less integration into the local community, less scrutiny by NGOs and journalists and worse conditions in the camps. It’s actually very simple: being a refugee shouldn’t lead to incarceration.”