Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Plans for a wall on Greece's border with Turkey embarrass Brussels -- but they offer no alternative

Barrier is latest attempt to stem flow of illegal migrants attempting to enter the EU through Greece

The Greek government's plans to build a wall three metres high along part of its border with Turkey have prompted confusion in Brussels. The project, unveiled by the minister of civil defence, Christos Papoutsis, aims to restrict illegal immigration in an area with no natural barriers. The strip of land has become a major thoroughfare for migrants attempting to enter the European Union, with 90% of illegal migrants now passing through Greece.

The wall is to be built on a 12km stretch of frontier in Thrace. The area south of the river Evros, which takes a turn through Turkey, is highly permeable. About 128,000 illegals entered Greece at this location last year, according to Papoutsis.

The European commission expressed reservations about the project. "Walls or fences are short-term measures that are not meant to deal with the question of illegal immigration in a structural way," said the spokesman on security. [Pathetic waffle] Talks with Athens are likely to be difficult. The government has rejected "hypocritical" criticism, emphasising the need to "protect the rights of Greek citizens". Past complaints by European partners have focused on Greece's failure to guard its borders, the pitiful state of its detention centres and the treatment inflicted on asylum seekers.

The French and Germans are concerned about the future of the Schengen area due to the influx of illegal immigrants through Greece. The British, Dutch and Swedish authorities have stopped sending undocumented migrants back to Greece, even when there is proof they came by that route. Some governments even suspect that the Greeks floated the idea of a wall to put pressure on their partners and have the Frontex mission extended. The EU agency deployed 200 border guards south of the Evros river in October but they are due to be withdrawn at the end of February.

The Turkish government seems reluctant to get involved in the controversy. Located at the crossroads of migratory flows from the Middle East, Asia, the Caucasus and increasingly Africa, it has problems of its own.


Where are the UK's 60,000 lost asylum seekers?

Thousands of asylum seekers have been lost to immigration officials, according to a group of MPs looking in to border controls. They say more than 60,000 people will have vanished in a "rush" to clear backlogs.

Where have these people gone?

You might remember the uproar four years ago when it came out up to 450,000 asylum claims hadn't been processed. There were claims that the Home Office was not "fit for purpose" under the old Labour government.

Ever since, this MPs' group - the Home Affairs committee - has been keeping an eye on efforts to get things back on track. What's come out today is their latest report.

So - these aren't new asylum seekers?

No. All this could go back years.

The accusation is that in the rush to catch up since that backlog about one in seven applications have simply been shelved. They say too much time has passed, and it's now likely to be impossible to find the people that filled out the forms in in the first place.

It adds up to about 60,000 people living in the UK who initially arrived as asylum seekers and there's no knowing whether they should be allowed to stay or not.

But they won't be here legally if they don't have their paperwork sorted?

That's right. It leaves them in limbo neither legally settled and able to get a proper job, nor under threat of being removed.

Answering all this for the government, the Immigration Minister Damian Green says the system is "recovering".


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