ATHENS – Greece’s New Democracy government, which has taken a hard line against refugees and migrants wanting to reach the country, said it will ask the European Union to help pay for an extended wall on the border with Turkey.
The plans also include expanding a powerful surveillance network aimed at keeping them out, aimed at those coming from Turkey where they had gone first, fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands.
Public Order Minister Takis Theodorikakos, told a parliamentary committee that the government expects some countries bordering the EU to continue to exploit migration to exert political pressure on member states, citing the recent crisis in Belarus on its border with Poland and other EU members.
“We have every reason to expect that these kinds of threats will continue,” he said without mentioning claims from activists and human rights groups that Greece has unlawfully been pushing back people over the border and toward Turkey’s coast in the Aegean who were using various craft to get to Greece.
New Democracy has toughened the country’s migration policy and recently completed a 26-kilometer (16.15-mile extension of a steel border wall to make the barrier span 38 kilometers (23.61 miles.)
It’s in the region of the Evros River that’s a natural barrier but where many refugees and migrants have drowned trying to cross the perilous country to get into Greece and seek asylum after the European Union closed its borders.
“We believe the security on our own borders is linked to the security of the EU,” Theodorikakos said, adding that border walls and fences are normally funded by national governments, but Greece wanting the bloc’s help now.
A control center processing data from newly-built border surveillance towers equipped with long-range cameras and multiple sensors was due to begin operating in early 2022, he said.
The Artificial Intelligence-driven system is aimed at tracking multiple incidents using data from surveillance sensors and flagging those considered the most serious to border guard officers.
“This automated system gives us many operational advantages and helps us monitor the entire border region,” the minister said of the measures.
So far, the wall and detection network helped prevent more than 143,000 illegal crossing attempts on the Greek-Turkish land border, he said, over eight months this year through October – a 45 percent increase from a year earlier.
The government denied repeated allegations by human rights and migrant advocacy groups that the border interceptions include illegal summary deportations known as pushbacks despite video evidence showing it.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)