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The barrier of the Greek-Turkish border won't allow even a mosquito to fly past

10 February 2013 / 14:02:38  GRReporter
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It was just after midnight and it was raining cats and dogs when voices shouting for help in English could be heard from the river. The border guards, who patrolled the flooded bank of the Maritsa River in the village of Mandra near Didymoteicho, floodlit the water and saw people hanging from trees, shouting and waving at them. With a risk of being dragged away by the rising waters, they helped the people - 9 in total - get to the land. The tenth one, a seven-year-old boy, sunk into the water.

As the rescued people explained later to the police, Turkish traffickers had boarded them on a plastic boat and pushed them into the river so they could row themselves and pass into Greek territory. The boat broke, however, and, in order not to be dragged down by the risen river, they were forced to climb trees.

Episodes like this, which happened recently, were a daily routine not so long ago. Now, however, these happen less frequently. The operation for the prevention of the flow of illegal immigrants through the walls of the Greek-Turkish land border that were, until recently, "paper-like" for traffickers, is called "Shield". It has been in force since August and, apparently, is effective.

Only 45 arrests

According to data of the Greek police, if in July 2012, i.e. before the beginning of the plan, there were 6,000 arrests in the Orestiada region, in January 2013, there were only 45 arrests. The presence of the disputed iron barrier, with a length of 12.5 km, on the land border between the two countries, in practice has closed the most important, in recent years, route for illegal immigrants. "Even a fly cannot pass through the barrier-protected area," said Regional Police Director George Salamangas, emphasising that "the region has turned a new page in terms of solving the problem with illegal immigration." Thermal cameras, located on pylons, monitor night and day the border line, transmitting a real time picture to the police Operation Centre.

Double relief

"We are relieved, the barrier is effective, the results are positive," emphasised Deputy District Governor Gogo Nicolaou. The Turks are also relieved. According to a report of the English-language newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, farmers, residents of the villages of Karaagach and Boshnakyoy, which are located near the border, are satisfied and believe that their villages will no longer be an entry point for large groups of immigrants. "For us, the barrier is good news that might discourage immigrants who trample the fields and cause damage amounting to thousands of Turkish Lira. Every night, some 20 to 30 people cross the border through our village and destroy crops. And not only this, our region has become infamous," say villagers.

The spring will be crucial

The construction of the barrier exempts significant police forces - both people and equipment. Around 2,000 police officers were deployed along the border until now and the equipment will currently strengthen the coastline of the Maritsa River from Didymoteicho up to the delta. "The battle is now transferred to the river and I have to say that it's going well," said an optimistic police officer. "The effective barrier and the increased presence of our forces along the rest of the border are a message not only to traffickers, but to the flows of immigrants as well and this message is that Maritza can no longer be passed." Of course, now, this optimism needs to be verified and this will happen in the spring, when the river will recede and, as Salamangas admitted, the delta of the Maritza River is a complex and difficult area.

In any case, the iron barrier that was so controversial both in Greece and in the European Union in terms of its usefulness and effectiveness, seems, for the moment, to be a powerful weapon in the battle against illegal immigration in a region which is traditionally one of the most important points of entry for immigrants from Africa and Asia to Europe. Whether immigration through the Aegean Sea will increase is another matter.

Tags: Greek-Turkish border barrier illegal immigrants trafickers
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