A 3-kilometer (1.864-mile) floating barrier more than 1 meter (3.28 feet) high designed to keep refugees and migrants from reaching the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos already holding nearly 20,000 is reportedly near completion.
The project, widely mocked and assailed as unlikely to work and inhumane, was commissioned by the New Democracy government earlier in 2020 as one means to keep the refugees away although patrols by the Greek Coast Guard and European Union border agency Frontex haven’t worked to do that.
The Greek Ministry of Defence said the project is in its final phase, reported The Brussels Times, the floating fence to be put off the northeast part of Lesbos with no explanation how it would work if boats steer around it.
The Greek government launched bids on January 29 with the cost of the design, installation and maintenance for four years estimated at 500,000 euros ($560,250) but it wasn’t said who the builder was.
The project went ahead during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite objections from critics and human rights groups. “This plan raises worrying questions about the possibility of rescuers continuing to provide assistance to people attempting the dangerous crossing of the sea,” Amnesty International said.
During COVID-19, the numbers of arrival on islands near the coast of Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending them during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union dwindled.
Turkey is holding about 5.5 million refugees and migrants who fled war and strife in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria’s civil war, but also economic conditions in sub-Saharan Africa and other countries.
They went to Turkey in hopes of reaching prosperous countries in the EU, which closed its borders to them and reneged on promises to help spread some of the overload, leaving them to go to Greece to seek asylum.
Since April, only 350 arrived on Lesbos, the paper said, with the notorious Moria detention camp that the BBC called “the worst in the world,” holding nearly 18,000 people in what rights groups said were inhumane conditions.
Greece has about 100,000 refugees and migrants, including more than 33,000 asylum seekers in five camps on the Aegean islands, with a capacity of only 5,400 people, and some 70,000 more in other facilities on the mainland.
When the idea was announced, it drew immediate fire and criticism, with the European Union cool to the idea and Germany not even talking about it.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups piled on against the scheme that was proposed after the government said it would replace camps on islands with detention centers to vet those ineligible for asylum.
Island officials and residents were upset then, with compassion fatigue setting him even more after trying to deal with a crisis heading into its fifth year. The government said it would move 20,000 to the mainland.
At the time, Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said it was a “positive measure that will help monitor areas close to the Turkish coast,” and the barrier “sends out the message that we are not a free-for-all and that we’re taking all necessary measures to protect the borders.”
Rights groups said it will increase risks faced by refugees and migrants trying to reach Greek islands in rickety craft and rubber dinghies, many of which have overturned or capsized since 2016, drowning scores of people.
The barrier will and have lights to make it visible at night, said officials. “The invitation for floating barriers is in the right direction… We will see what the result, what its effect as a deterrent will be in practice,” Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told SKAI Radio.
“It will be a natural barrier. If it works like the one in Evros, I believe it can be effective,” he said, referring to a cement and barbed-wire fence that Greece set up in 2012 along its northern border with Turkey to keep out migrants and refugees, which hasn’t worked.
The major opposition SYRIZA condemned the floating barrier plan as “a disgrace and an insult to humanity,” with other reports it would be only 19 inches above water or if it would be visible in rough seas that have sunk boats.
Adding that the idea was “disgusting,” a SYRIZA statement said the barrier “offends humanity … and violates European and international rules,” said the party, calling the proposal absurd, unenforceable and dangerous. “Even a child knows that in the sea you cannot have a wall.”