The Greek government has chosen to respond to the presence of immigrants and refugees as an imminent threat, as potential enemies who are jeopardizing the country’s sovereignty. Such a response is obvious by their decision to purchase and supply ammunition, M84 stun grenades, grenades of chemicals, grenades (CS830) and armament, amounting to 2,180,520.00 euros. According to the Ministry of Citizen Protection, all of those purchases were completed “for the purpose of covering any urgent and unforeseen necessities of the Greek Police concerning any tackling of migration flows in Evros Region”. Additionally, there is credible information, that the Ministry of Citizen Protection has bought two “super-weapons”, two Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD), for the “confrontation of the Turkish bellicosity which is weaponizing refugees and immigrants in Evros ”. The LRAD is an acoustic hailing device, sound cannon and sonic weapon. According to the reports, its use causes “painful pain, shock, panic and disorients the victim”.
At the same time, the Greek government has announced the extension of a barbed-wire fence at the borders, covering an extra 27 kilometers alongside the Greek-Turkish borderline. At an EU level, officials have praised Greece’s border control measures and have provided support through the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX). For example, Margaritis Schinas, the vice-president in the Commission with the portfolio European Commissioner of promoting the European Way of Life, while talking to the Delphi Economic Forum 2020, praised the role of Frontex and highlighted that since 2016, Europe is guarding its border efficiently.
“Frontex nowadays has more responsibilities and resources. Frontex of 2016 cannot be compared to the Frontex of today. They have been reinforced with more officers already and they will be reinforced with 10.000 in total. Our experience in Evros displays that the European Commission has the reflexes to help Greece in a political and operational level”.
The militarization of refugees and migrants was also marked by the introduction of the Greek Law 4650/2019 entitled “Regulations of issues of the Ministry of National Defense and other provisions”. Article 11 of this law establishes the position of the National Coordinator for the treatment and management of the immigration-refugee issue who reports directly to the Prime Minister and is appointed by his decision. Additionally, article 12, re-establishes the Unified Border Surveillance Body which is designed to control and surveil the land and maritime borders of the Greek Territory while simultaneously mandated to report to the National Coordinator for the treatment of the immigration-refugee issue.
With the goal of increasing the Greek law enforcement units in the area an additional 400 border-police patrol officers were hired by the Ministry of Citizen Protection to reinforce the guarding of the borders. According to a statement made by the mayor of Orestiada, the enhancement of police forces in the general area was for guarding all the possible entry points into the country. As of now, the Greek law enforcement unit consists of 400 policemen of the Units for the Reinstatement of Order (MAT), the newly recruited border-police patrol officers, delegated their full duties during the autumn, the already present force of 400 police officers, 200 non-paid volunteer policemen, 150 police officers from the ASPIDA program, and finally 400 more border guards, adding up to a total of 1.150 officers.
The conditions in the European land borders with Turkey have shaken the leaders of the bordering countries, seeking for international collaboration to effectively strengthen their plans against the rise of border crossings. Michalis Chrisochoidis, the Greek Minister of Citizen Protection, met with Hristo Terzyiski, the Bulgarian Minister of Citizen Protection, and discussed how they will cope with the “illegal immigration flows”. The two Μinisters agreed to expand their cooperation in the borders by strengthening their police force with new executives and joint patrols missions. Mr. Terziyski noted that his country will continue contributing to border controls and to continue joint patrols with Greek police and Frontex staff, as in the first half of 2020. Finally, the Frontex force, which reinforced the Greek law enforcement units during the February- March crisis, is comprised of 100 officers and has remained active in the area. According to Fabrice Leggeri, the Executive Director of Frontex:
“If Turkey creates a new situation, of a magnitude similar to this of March at the Greek-Turkish borders, Frontex will boost its forces in Greece. If a new situation arises, Frontex will raise the total number of their staff to 1.500, sending 900 more officers to Greece”.
The President of the Police Directorate of Orestiada declared at a public statement that the police and army forces intercepted 100-150 asylum seekers attempting to cross the borders, mainly in the areas of Lavara, Petrades, and N. Vyssa. Such interceptions are a basic violation of people’s right to seek international protection within the Greek borders, with such the systematic defilement of the non-refoulement principle causing potential danger of prosecution and mistreatment in their countries of origin.
As of the 31st of August 2020, the repairs and construction of the fence in Evros have been launched and carried out by four construction companies and under the supervision and responsibility of the Ministry of Citizen Protection. The estimated cost is 62 million euros, while the estimated completion time is 8 months. According to journalists’ information, the fence will not be unified, but it will cover three separated areas; 9 km in “Petalo” Feron, 15 km in an area called “Ktima Tsirozi” and 2,5 km in “Nea Egnatia” area. Furthermore, the declaration refers to the fortification of the existing 12.5-meter long fence with 5 meters barbed wire at the highest point, covering the distance between the border station of Kastanies to Nea Vyssa.
According to the same sources, a camera system for the automated surveillance of the borderline has already been launched, including 11 cameras on pillars in the area between Orestiada to the sea. At the same time, pillars with thermal cameras and operational centers along the borderline are scheduled to be placed within the year 2021 to detect migrants trying to enter the country. The technical equipment has already been sent from the project contractor, Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE), to the warehouses of the Greek Police (EL.AS). Finally, the Minister of Citizen Protection has stated that the fence will be a “strong metal railing with anti-climbing, anti-armor, and anti-flood functions, while eight anti-ballistic observatories will operate along the fence”.
As a 20% increase in border crossing was observed during the first two weeks of September, the Ministry of Citizen Protection, in collaboration with the General Police Headquarters, aims to further armor the border through new equipment. More specifically, for the additional fortification of the region of Evros, 4 drones will be conducting air surveillance, 15 thermal sensors will detect migrants during the night, while 10 armored police vehicles and 5 inflatable boats will be utilized for the reinforcement of the patrolling units. Emphasis will be placed on the area of Tychero, the Ardas river, and “Ktima Tsirozi”, where fence extension operations have already begun.
The Deputy Minister of National Defense, Alkiviadis Stefanis said that it is an essential matter to upgrade the institution of the National Guard, a voluntary armed force of the Army. He specifically mentioned that:
“Regardless of all the above, the expressed intention of the political leadership of the Ministry of National Defense is to upgrade the institution of the National Guard, therefore, in cooperation with the co-responsible Ministries, the redefinition of the legal framework concerning the National Guard is being studied“.
On the 6th of July 2020, there was a meeting concerning the current situation at the Greek-Turkish border and the protection of human rights between the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs alongside the Home Affairs Commissioner, Ilva Johansson. During that meeting, Members of the European Parliament tried to raise awareness about the current situation by referring to the assassination of Mohamed Al Arab and Muhammad Gulzar and asked the Greek governmental representatives, and the Commissioner, to take a position on these serious allegations. The Greek political leaders continue to emphatically deny the existence of any dead or wounded by the Greek gunfire, although the information released by Forensic Architecture, confirmed by several organizations and actors such as Bellingcat, Pointer (KRO-NCRV), Der Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, show exactly the opposite.