ATHENS — A wall extension Greece plans to build on its northern border with Turkey near the treacherous Evros River won't just be high enough (5 meters, 16.4 feet) to keep out refugees and migrants but it will be patrolled and include surveillance cameras and sirens as deterrents.
Four Greek construction companies have been selected to build the new wall and upgrade the existing section of fencing.
With worries that Turkey will again flood Greek islands with refugees and migrants through human traffickers, Greece's New Democracy government has taken a tougher stance, some 5 ½ years after people began coming.
They went to Turkey fleeing war, strife and economic misery in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan as well as sub-Saharan Africa, making the perilous trip across the Aegean to Greek islands on rickety craft and rubber dinghies. Many drowned en route when the vessels capsized, including children.
Turkey has kept them coming, although in smaller numbers since an essentially-suspended March, 2015 swap deal with the European Union which closed its borders to them, dumping the problem largely on Greece during its long-running economic and austerity crisis.
While most took their risks over the water, others have tried to get across by land, with Greek riot police and army units in February and March stopping some 10,000 that Turkey bused to the spot near where the new wall will be built.
Some 25.74 kilometers (16 miles) will be added to an existing 9.65-kilometer (6-mile) fence, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said, a 63-million euro ($74.5 million) project that will use galvanized square steel tubes and concrete foundations to prevent getting underneath, the British newspaper The Guardian said.
“The cameras will be a vital resource for us,” Ilias Akidis, the head of the police officers’ association in the Greek border region told the Associated Press. “We have been asking for them for five years and we think they will be very effective,” he added.
The work is expected to be finished as soon as April, 2021 with no explanation why people couldn't go around the fence on a border that is some 200 kilometers (124.27 miles) long.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to unleash hordes of refugees and migrants on the EU through Greece's islands and border, Turkey holding some 4 million of them.
He wants the EU to release another 3 billion euros ($3.55 billion) from a 6-billion euro ($7.10 billion) pledge, visa-free travel in Europe for Turks and to speed the entry process into the bloc, which now seems doomed some 15 years into trying.
Compounding the issue is the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic with Greece trying to contain outbreaks on some refugee and migrant camps although there haven't been extensive cases despite overcrowding there.
The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said 7,357 people crossed from Turkey into Greece in the first quarter of 2020, only slightly higher than the same period in 2019, although deaths at sea jumped up from 19 to 67.
Turkey, which allows human traffickers to operate, accused Greece of trying to push back refugees and migrants, as have human rights groups, which Greece's government has repeatedly denied doing.