Dealing with illegal immigration
As can be seen here, here and here, Greece is the first stop for many illegal immigrants heading into Europe.
Nowhere is the pressure on the European Union's borders mounting as insistently as in this northernmost corner of the Aegean Sea across the river from Turkey.
With the help of smugglers, dozens of migrants breach this frontier daily on foot, in plastic boats, by swimming, or crouched inside empty oil tankers or secret compartments of trucks.
In its zeal to secure the border, Greece is being accused of serious lapses in human rights and ignoring treaty pledges that bind it to give haven to refugees claiming protection - rights established under international conventions.
"There are serious problems with the asylum system in Greece," said William Spindler, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. "It doesn't meet European or international standards."
Would-be immigrants - Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghanis and others - are arriving here in numbers bigger than ever before. Their ranks are swollen by a "huge and very sudden influx" that began in September, according to Pangiotis Papadimitriou, the border monitoring officer for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Waiting for the new arrivals are the police. Refugees' lawyers say many migrants are secretly forced back, without being given the chance to request asylum.
"It is illegal, illegal, illegal," said Evgenia Papanastasiou, a refugees' lawyer in the northern Greek city of Kavala who has 19 years of experience in criminal law.
In October 2007, two private groups, Pro Asyl, based in Germany, and the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants, based in Athens, made a similar accusation, adding in a joint report that the Greek Coast Guard was pushing back migrants' boats at sea.
The police and the coast guard vehemently deny the allegations and say that those who require asylum can request it. Under Greek law, it is a crime for public servants to expel forcibly any person needing international protection.
The land border between Greece and Turkey, two historically antagonistic nations, extends for 182 kilometers, or 114 miles, tracking the Evros River, which the Turks call the Meric, down to the Aegean Sea.
For 11 kilometers, where the river temporarily parts with the frontier, the soil is studded with land mines - a legacy of old enmity. That does not deter migrants, who travel from as far away as Myanmar and Bangladesh and whose bodies are occasionally found in the minefields.
"You see wars, disasters and so on, on television, and six months later they are here," said a jaded Evros border guard who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
Tens of thousands of migrants try to cross the EU borders every year. But while the numbers of arrivals have plunged in the Canary Islands this year and stabilized in Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa, along the Greek-Turkish border they are on the rise.
In the district guarding the southern half of the Evros border with Turkey, the border police headquartered in Alexandroupolis arrested more than 15,000 migrants in 2006, and 13,869 through Oct. 30 this year, about four times as many as in 2005, when 3,706 were arrested.
Common among Greek officials is a sense that faraway Brussels requires them to be gatekeepers for the whole of the European Union, without having to deal with the stresses or offering much support.
"This is the EU border, and our job is to help the rest of the countries that are behind," Anestis Argyriadis, chief of the border police in Alexandroupolis, said in an interview this month. "The problem we face as Greek police is the problem of the entire EU."
The influx of displaced civilians is putting Greece's humanitarian resolve to the test. In many ways the nation is ill-equipped to handle the challenge. Its coastline is dotted with thousands of islands that are impossible to patrol, while its asylum procedures are rudimentary.
Emmanuel Karlas, prefect of the border island of Samos, says the European Union could start by urging Turkey, a prospective member, to improve its border controls.
"The EU stands far from here and watches with its binoculars and doesn't find a solution," he said. "This is not the problem of Greece, Italy or Spain; it is a problem for all of the EU."
Complicating matters, the Greek police cannot work with their Turkish counterparts to address border issues because the army, not the police, has jurisdiction on the Turkish side.
Still, under an agreement reached with Ankara in 2001, Athens is entitled to send undocumented migrants with no refugee claim back to Turkey; the narrow bridge across the Evros at Kipi is the only place in the whole country where this is authorized.
According to official figures, Athens requested readmission for 2,250 such people of various nationalities in 2006, and Turkey agreed to accept 456. Delays meant that in the end, only 127 were actually sent across.
Meanwhile, migrant numbers continue to rise. This year through November, 10,961 of them rowed inflatable dinghies to the three Greek islands closest to Turkey in the Northern Aegean; for the whole of 2006, the total was 4,024, Interior Ministry data show.
Greece sees the matter primarily as a security concern.
"The job of the police, the foremost goal, is to safeguard our border so migrants don't enter illegally, and as a consequence, to arrest them," Argyriadis said.
Undocumented migrants are held in administrative detention for three months. Members of the European Parliament who visited one such center on Samos in June described its conditions as deplorable; it stayed open for another six months. The Greek Interior Ministry would not allow a reporter access to detention centers there or elsewhere.
A number of lawyers for refugees say that the Greek police and army are secretly and illegally expelling migrants, some of whom are not even registered or given the opportunity to request protection. They say that these deportations take place at night, in small plastic boats, across the Evros River.
Mariana Tzeferakou, a refugees' lawyer in Athens, said that illicit deportations along the Evros were an open secret and had been going on for a decade.
"Now we realize it is going on much more intensely," she said, adding that a large number of people coming across in this area "are prima facie refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa."
Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, the Athens-based head of the UN refugee agency for Greece, said the agency had had several reports that this was happening.
"Our indications are that people are being made to return by unofficial means in a very short period of time," he said. "Some complained that they had tried to explain their need for asylum and were not heard."
For those who do get a hearing, Greece's overall recognition rate for refugees is low, hovering for years at roughly 1 percent. That compares with 45 percent in Italy last year and 19 percent in Spain.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees examined 305 randomly selected initial decisions on asylum claims, lodged in Greece by people from Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sri Lanka, and found every one of them negative.
About 3,500 Iraqis requested asylum in Greece in the first half of this year, the highest number for any industrial nation except Sweden. Yet a study comparing decisions on asylum claims in five EU countries, published by the UN refugee agency in November, found that the chance of an Iraqi refugee's receiving protection in Greece stood at zero. In Sweden, it was 75 percent.
In April, the European Commission sued Greece in the European Court of Justice over its asylum processes. Greece lost.
Spindler, the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, said the agency did not want Greece to lose sight of the need to offer protection.
"We understand the need to police the borders and combat illegal immigration, but you have to bear in mind that sometimes people cross borders without documents for very valid reasons," he said. "You have to leave the doors open for those people."
Source: International Herald Tribune (English)
The Hellenic Coast Guard (Greek: Λιμενικό Σώμα) is the national coast guard of Greece.
It is a paramilitary organization that can support the Hellenic Navy in wartime, but resides under separate civilian control in times of peace.
It was founded in 1919 by an Act of Parliament (N. 1753/1919) and the legal framework for its function was reformed in 1927.
The Hellenic Coast Guard Force is under the authority of the Hellenic Republic Ministry of Mercantile Marine and Maritime Policy headed by the Minister for Mercantile Marine and Island Policy and the Senior Coast Guard Officer who normally has the rank of Vice Admiral. The current Commander is Vice Admiral Theodoros Rentzeperis.
The roles of the Hellenic Coast Guard in peace time are:
Law enforcement in sea
Search and rescue
Pollution prevention in sea
Prevention of the illegal immigration and especially drugs and arms smuggling.
In order to perform these roles, the Coast Guard operate a number of Patrol Boats of various sizes (6m to 60m) and different types (RIB's, coastal patrol boats, offshore patrol boats, lifeboats and pollution control vessels). On land the Hellenic Coast Guard is equiped with cars and motorcycles.
The video above shows a normal day and night of these brave men...
Greece - It’s not the word..
First off: We are back - after a long hiatus barred behind firewalls and various projects!
The German news magazine, DER SPIEGEL (article is in English), reports on inhumane expulsion practices by Greek officials dealing with refugees along the country’s shores.
German refugee rights organization ProAsyl and the Greek Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Asylum Seekers have issued a condemning report on the human rights violations that are apparently common practice in the refoulement of unwanted refugees and would be migrants in Agean Sea.
The report alledges the following:
The Greek coast guard systematically maltreats newly arrived refugees. It tries to block their:
boats and force them out of Greek territorial waters. Regardless of whether they survive or not, passengers are cast ashore on uninhabited islands or left to their fate on the open sea.
In one reported case on the Chios island, the degree of maltreatment amounted to torture (serious beating, mock execution, electric shocks, pushing a refugee’s head into a bucket full of water).
- The police detain all refugees and migrants on their arrival on the islands, including minors.
This is in contravention of international law. Without exception, all new arrivals are placed under a deportation order, also in breach of international law. The detainees are left without any information about their rights and without legal counsel.
All three of the detention camps visited by the delegation offer unacceptable living conditions.The circumstances of detention amount to degrading and inhuman treatment.”
ProAsyl and its supporting organizations, including the European Council for Refugees and Exiles, ECRE, are calling upon the EU to take rapid, punitive action against Greece, respective of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Refugees and existing European Directives.
Read ProAsyl’s press release here (PDF).
Download the full report here.
A distortion of truth from the Turkish TV:
"Greek Coast Guard Fired At Turkish Boat That Saves Afghan Fugitives" (!!!)
This Turkish TV Channel allegates and tones also:
"Merciless Nazi Greek Coast Security Forces left Afghan fugitives to death by threwing them to Aegean Sea and fired at helpful Turkish Coast Security Boat which saved Afghan fugitives.."
My "stupid" thoughts: First of all:
HOW THOSE AFGHANS HAD FOUND IN AEGEAN SEA, SINCE AFGHANISTAN IS AT LEAST 2 TO 5 THOUSANDS (5000) KILOMETERS FAR FROM ANY SEA ON THIS PLANET? HOW COME THEY WERE OVER THIS TURKISH CARGO SHIP AND NOT OVER AN ..AFGHAN OR ANY OTHER SHIP, BUT OVER A TURKISH?
Well the truth is totally different!
The Hellenic (Greek) Coast Guard was preventing a Turkish (pirate) cargo ship from entering in the Greek waters. When the pirate captain of this ship saw the Greek coast guard ships arriving, thowed the Afghans into the sea and tried to escape..
Read what BBC reports about this big problem:
Turkey's booming people trade
Boats carrying illegal immigrants favour the long Greek and Italian coastlines
In one day Turkish authorities found the bodies of 24 illegal migrants. Among them were nine children, found frozen to death with the rest of their family on the mountainous Turkish-Iranian border.
On the same day five Pakistanis were found drowned on the shore of Turkey's Aegean coast.
The death toll has underlined that Turkey has become one of the main centres for human trafficking and the problem is growing.
At the centre of the trade is the country's largest city, Istanbul.
Among the swarms of tourists in the historical part of the city I met John, not his real name. He is from West Africa and has been involved in the trafficking people for the last five years.
He eventually hopes to earn enough money to secure a passage for him and his family to go to France. He says the business in smuggling is booming.
"They come from Africa, West Africa, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and also northern Iraq," he said.
"They come to Turkey because Turkey is the easiest point to get to Europe. There are boats that go to Greece and Italy.
"They ask $1,500 for passage to Greece and to Italy $2,500. By land to Greece, they ask from $500 up to $1,750. They want to move to Europe because it is something like an El Dorado, it's a dream. Even for myself I feel Europe is a paradise."
The explosion in demand has been met with an equal growth in those ready to provide passage. John's job is to bring the migrants together with the smugglers.
He lists the different areas of the city where various nationalities congregate to find passage. "Sultanahmet Nigerians, Talabasi Bangladeshis and so on."
John deals with 15 different smuggling gangs operating in the city. Competition between the gangs is so stiff that the prices have now started to fall. Some smugglers now only expect to be paid if the migrant successfully enters Europe and payment is made by a third-party guarantor.
But John is quick to point out that failure to pay is out of the question. "These people are very dangerous, if you don't pay they will kill the guarantor, it is quite simple," he said.
Such a system is an indication of the confidence of the smugglers to deliver.
Professor Ahmet Icduygu has been studying the trade for more than a decade.
He says that between two thirds and three quarters of the boats get through to their destinations in Greece and Italy. The smugglers, he says, run an efficient operation.
"They are more organised than the state system. It's complicated and very diversified, there is no single way of doing it. They adapt very quickly to any action by the security forces. There are small groups operating around the world and they are in contact with one another all the time through mobile phones.
"A person who wants to leave Northern Iraq - within a week they will be in Berlin, London or Rome. Last summer I interviewed an Ethiopian woman captured by Turkish authorities in the Marmara Sea.
"She said she had missed the boat leaving the day before because she was sick. A week later she called me from Rome saying she had arrived with the smugglers. That means within a week there were three boats going to Italy."
Mobile phones allow the smugglers to remain in contact with their network across the world.
Along with Europe a small trade exists in smuggling to North America and Australia. According to police records one smuggler sold his mobile phone containing the directory of his contacts to another smuggler for $15,000.
In the last seven years the numbers arrested by Turkish authorities for illegal entry and exit has increased 900% from 11,000 in 1995 to 92,000 in 2001.
According to Professor Icduygu the growing numbers of migrants is putting an intolerable strain on the meagre resources of the Turkish security forces.
"They don't have the money to fight, and if they don't fight again this, criticism comes to them and it feeds the whole circle."
But the European Union is demanding more from Turkey. The EU's frustration with Turkey was most recently voiced by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He warned Turkey that it should do more to curtail the illegal migration.
Following that warning Turkish authorities intercepted a ferry carrying 250 migrants off Turkey's Mediterranean coast. One of the migrants was killed and five others wounded when the security forces opened fire.
The following day one of Turkey's main newspapers headline ran: "Blair warned us , we caught them."
But Professor Icduygu argues that the European Union has to be prepared to pay if it wants the Turks to secure its long coastline and rugged land border.
He says the EU has so far refused to be forthcoming with financial assistance other than paying for a few training programmes and some computers.
"In the United States they spend $5.5bn every year to control their borders. At the same time , according to some estimates, up to five million people illegally enter the US."
The explosion in the numbers of migrants caught started in 1995, the same year that EU countries started to tighten their visa requirements on would-be immigrants.
That is widely seen as driving many migrants into the hands of the smugglers.
Christopher, not his real name, is from Senegal. I met him in a small dirty hotel in the Aksaray district of Istanbul. The area is a popular waiting point for illegal migrants with its hundreds of cheap hotels.
He says that the tougher EU restrictions mean that the smugglers are the only way for him. "Without a visa you have to take the boat, there is no choice. We are forced into this.
"I had all the correct papers for my visa. But it was refused by the [French] Consul. They give no reason, they just refuse.
"So me and many friends have no choice. We are being forced into this, paying big money and taking big risks. I want to join my family and this is the only way into Europe."
Turkish Coast Guard boat smuggling
illegal immigrants into Greek territory
Shocking new pictures of a Turkish Coast Guard (Turk Sahil Guvenlik) boat smuggling illegal immigrants into Greek territory, were revealed yesterday by the daily "Ethnos". The incident took place in August 19 in the vicinity of Cape Korakas located at the island of Lesvos, one of the easternmost Greek islands and raises serious questions on the role of the neighbouring country in the huge illegal immigration problem the Greek authorities are facing.
A Greek Coastguard vessel on patrol originally spotted the Turkish boat in the vicinity of Cape Korakas well inside Greek waters ,carrying an unknown number of illegal immigrants .Footage published by "Ethnos" shows a man ( a member of the crew as it seems) throwing life jackets overboard for the soon to be castaways . The Greek CG crews are often called upon to rescue large numbers of desperate illegal immigrants that are thrown overboard by the modern day slave traders at the first sight of an approaching patrol boat . The short and costly (several thousand dollar) trip from the nearby coast does not always end with a hot cup of tea and a blanket in a Greek acceptance center as many unfortunate drown every year ,including children.
The GC vessel intercepted the TGC boat ( a type Kaan 15 patrol boat) which started to perform evasive maneuvers and failed to respond to the continuing radio calls by the Greek patrol boat .The pursuit that followed lasted 15 minutes and ended with the Turkish intruder returning to Turkish territorial waters.
The continuing waves of illegal immigrants have constrained the Greek Government to commence a costly program for the construction of new acceptance facilities in the eastern borders of the country as the already existing infrastructure has proven inadequate .It should be noted that the "Papandreou-Cem agreement" on the re-acceptance of illegal immigrants was never implemented by the Turkish side ,that refuses to cooperate . In a common effort to safeguard EU eastern sea borders and deal with a problem affecting the Union as a whole, common patrols with other EU member vessels (Italy) have been established in the areas of Lesvos and Samos .According to government officials last year alone a total of 112.000 illegal immigrants tried to enter the country, the large majority of which originated from the nearby coast of Asia Minor.
The Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanis issued a formal protest regarding the incident ,without any Turkish response so far.
Older footage of a TCG Kaan 15 class boat performing its ...daytime duties.