Anticipating a wave of Afghan migration, Greece jumps into action
A metal wall, barbed wire, drones and cameras could be the first sights that welcome some Afghan refugees fleeing to Europe, as they reach the Greek land border with Turkey.
Last week, as chaos gripped Kabul with the Taliban’s takeover, Greece announced it had finished the extension of a 40-km (25-mile) border wall on the frontier.
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi has insisted that Athens would not allow a flood of Afghans to enter, warning against a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis.
Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis has claimed Greek borders would remain “inviolable”, adding, “We cannot wait passively for the possible impact.”
According to Greek media, technologies being implemented along the border include 11 new cameras, as well as radars that can see up to 15km (nine miles) into Turkish territory.
Meanwhile, police chiefs are reportedly shoring up supplies of tear gas and flash grenades, and bolstering physical border patrols.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has jumped into diplomatic action, discussing EU borders with the bloc’s officials, and talking to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the refugee support needed by countries closer to Afghanistan.
Natalie Gruber, co-founder of Josoor, an NGO based in Turkey which supports survivors of alleged pushbacks, said that the new wall was “a symbol of border regime deterrence”.
She added, however, “It is the technologies being used at the [Greece-Turkey] borders which is really troubling.
“We have collected testimonies of people who have been hiding and found using night-vision goggles, for example.”
Gruber said that when people are caught and often pushed back, there is usually an element of violence involved.
“Ninety percent of the testimonies we collect involve violence,” she said.
Josoor has noted an uptick in the level of violence on the Greece-Turkey border.
“In the past four weeks, we have had to take many more people to hospital,” she said, adding that the alleged abuse seemed to be due to Greek authorities “anticipating Afghans crossing”.
Greek authorities have strongly denied accusations of violence and pushbacks, despite consistent reports to the contrary.
But Greece is not alone in constructing walls along its border.
Its neighbour, Turkey, often a political rival to Greece, is reinforcing a border wall with Iran to prevent a feared increase of Afghan arrivals.
Three-metre (10-foot) high concrete slabs are being installed to prevent potential crossings, and local media has reported that 155km (93 miles) of a planned 241-km (150-mile) wall has already been built.
“The increased use of surveillance technology at borders signals Europe’s willingness to forego the humanity at the heart of the disaster in Afghanistan. By fortifying its borders, the EU is clearly signalling a turn away from the internationally protected norms of providing protection for people being persecuted, instead, building up more walls and relying on increased surveillance to fortify Fortress Europe,” said Petra Molnar, associate director of the Canada-based Refugee Law Lab think-tank.
“The people I speak with talk about how the increased use of surveillance at the border makes it clear that Europe is turning away from the human story at the heart of migration, instead, relying on more technology and walls to keep them away,” she said.
“It’s easy to forget that there are real people with real stories at the heart of this humanitarian disaster – a nuance lost in the increasing push towards surveillance technology at the European border.”
‘I left school to come to Europe to be safe’
Abdul*, who is 17, left his family behind in Afghanistan to seek refuge in Europe.
He is currently in France but had made his way through Greece and across various European land borders.
“You know if you touch the fence between Serbia and Hungary, they will tell you in Farsi, in Bengali, and also in English, ‘You are crossing the border illegally.’”
Abdul said people became terrified when they heard this disembodied voice.
“Everyone is scared and praying,” he said, because they know the police have been alerted and will turn up soon.
“The police come so fast and sometimes, when they catch you, they put tear gas in your eyes and you can’t see anything for two or three minutes.”
Abdul also encountered a drone on the Romanian border.
“They have a drone camera, so you escape and hide in the trees, but they easily up the drone camera and there is a flashing red light.
He said police often found him after the drone took off.
“It’s not a good thing.
“The situation in Afghanistan is not good, people want to have a safe life for their family. I left school to come to Europe to be safe.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.