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EU won't pay for Greece border fence
by Staff Writers
Brussels (UPI) Feb 9, 2012

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The European Commission says it won't pay for a $7.3 million fence Greece is building along its border with Turkey to deter migrants and asylum-seekers.

Michele Cercone, a spokeswoman for EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, said in Brussels Tuesday the commission had rejected Greece's request to fund the 7.8-mile razor wire-topped fence in the Evros region.

Cercone dismissed the idea of fences and walls along borders, calling them counterproductive temporary solutions and noting the commission has turned down similar ideas from other nations.

"The commission has decided not to follow up the Greek request because it considers it pointless," Cercone said in a Focus News Agency report. "Fences and walls are short-term measures that do not solve migration management issues in a structural way."

While it's up to individual nations to decide how to secure their borders, they must respect the human rights of the migrants under international law, she added.

The EU allocated $285 million to Greece from 2007-10 to battle illegal migration, as well as another $119 million this year, Cercone said.

Greek Citizens' Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis signed a contract to build the fence last month despite criticism from human rights groups and political opponents.

He said the fence would be completed by September and was sorely needed to stem the flow of thousands of "irregular migrants" and asylum-seekers sneaking across the border from Turkey.

Greek officials said more than 47,000 migrants were detained in Evros last year. They were mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh and most claimed asylum or refugee status.

Frontex, the EU's border control agency that oversees the Greek Turkish frontier, says there are also numerous migrants from North Africa who use the land crossing as an alternative to a dangerous boat journey across the Mediterranean Sea while seeking to enter Europe.

Papoutsis said last month Greek society "has exceeded its limit in its capacity to accommodate illegal immigrants," promising to help remedy the situation by building the fence near Orestiada and upgrading the country's coast guard.

The fence would be erected at a land crossing but most of the border between Greece and Turkey consists of the 112-mile-long River Evros, which Turkish officials noted can be crossed with small boats in winter or on foot in summer when conditions are dry, making a fence largely ineffective.

Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch told the BBC the fence might "divert some of the flow to other location but Greece has quite a long border, quite a lot of coastline, so it's an attempt at a quick fix for a problem that really is much more extensive."

Greece is also faced with a situation in which migrants who enter through the country are rejected for asylum in another EU country and are sent back to point of entry under the so-called Dublin regulation.

"The migration problem can only be resolved by addressing Greece's crisis in its own internal asylum system and EU agreement to reform the Dublin regulation that puts an unfair burden on Greece," Benjamin Ward of the human rights group told the Brussels online newspaper EUobserver.

Other non-governmental groups say they are concerned that fencing off the Turkey-Greek frontier will force refugees fleeing violence in Afghanistan and Syria to try more attempt dangerous routes to Europe through the western Balkans or Ukraine, the Web site said.

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