The Guest Blog

European Commission estimates that nowadays at least 4,5 million illegal economic immigrants live in the EU member-states. Almost 500.000 persons are every year arrested throughout the European Union. They are usually illegal economic immigrants looking for a better life in a democratic territory. Many of them ask for political asylum, but the political asylum grants are low (about 1 per cent). This happens in the EU-27, but also more specifically in Greece as well, as it is an “ideal passage” for immigrants entering the EU due to the country being at a crossroad of three continents.

Greece, due to its geographic location, is the front line for migration to the European Union. The country has 1,170 kilometres of land borders and 18,400 kilometres of coastline, including islands close to Turkey. Greece neighbors with many countries whose residents often immigrate. Illegal economic immigrants come to the country and stay permanently or temporarily until they manage to go to another European country. Greece is a “gate” for asylum seekers and migrants travelling overland through Turkey from the Middle East or South Asia into EU. Africans immigrants arrive in the country in increasing numbers through the sea via Egypt. It is estimated, through arrests, that every year 250.000 illegal immigrants enter the country. According to the 2010 Risk Analysis of Frontex, Greece accounts for 75% of all detections of illegal border crossing in the EU. In 2009, the number of detentions of illegal border crossing in Greece rose from 50% of the EU total (in 2008) to 75% of the total. In 2009, the Greek land border sections with Albania and FYROM represented the 34% of the EU total of illegal border crossings (the largest share) followed by the Aegean Sea (21%).

The majority of illegal economic immigrants comes to Greece legally and afterwards violates the duration for their visas. Some enter the country with fake papers. Many arrive in Greece with the help of smugglers belonging to organized crime. There are two main ways for illegal immigrants to come to Greece; by land crossing the Greek-Turkish border and by sea to the islands of the Eastern Aegean. Crossing the Evros River at the Greek-Turkish border is an extremely perilous route and many have drowned in the river. Another hazard is the existence of a border minefield that is badly sign-posted. However, not all the illegal immigrants can afford a smuggler. Many cross the river on their own. Sea passage is the second option. Many come from Turkey to Greece by boat. For those who cannot afford the extra money needed for the trip, the option is to hire a small inflatable or motorboat or stowing away in cargo ships. The sea route is dangerous too. Many persons have drowned in their effort to enter Greece. Those who manage to enter the country and then want to go to Western Europe usually use smuggling service by plane -that is using fake passports, by road-hiding in trucks usually through Albania, or by boat-hiding in the ferries going from Patras to Italy.

But being the host country for increasing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers does not excuse Greece’s abusive treatment of illegal migrants, including children and potential refugees. Migrants are often denied the opportunity to seek protection when they fall into the hands of Greek authorities near the country’s border with Turkey. Police in the northern region of Evros as well as in and around the Greek islands off the coast of Turkey do not make any distinction between people seeking asylum and others. Greece recognizes less than 1 per cent of asylum claims. Refugees often are treated as illegal immigrants liable to detention and deportation. Only in some cases the country gives them the required international protection. Even after being granted asylum, recognized refugees do not have many changes to integrate into the Greek society.

EU and Greece try to combat illegal economic immigration through strict control. But this cannot solve the issue, because it combats the consequences and not the causes. The solution could only be found in the promotion of peace and political stability; in the respect of human rights and democratic values; in the construction of economic, social and environmental growth in the immigrants’ origin countries. This solution, however, cannot come from a single country. European level cooperation is what is needed. Strict borders controls cannot reduce the determination of the citizens of non-EU countries to enter EU territory. If there are no legal means for them to enter the EU, the immigrants will find other, usually risky, ways to enter it in an illegal way.

Maria Lianou

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