The World From Berlin EU Border Guards to Secure Greek Frontier

The EU and UN have voiced concern over the large number of illegal immigrants entering Europe over the border between Turkey and Greece. Responding to Greek pleas for help, the EU is now deploying Rapid Border Intervention Teams for the first time. German commentators agree that this is a European problem and Greece cannot be left alone to fight it.

Immigrants wait at the train station at Nea Vissa in Greece, hoping for a better life in the European Union.

Immigrants wait at the train station at Nea Vissa in Greece, hoping for a better life in the European Union.

The European Commission is sending Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) to Greece's eastern border in an attempt to curb the flow of illegal immigrants from Turkey. On Sunday, overwhelmed Greek officials requested European Union assistance after a recent spike in the number of illegal crossings.

Greek officials in the border town of Orestiada have said they are dealing with as many as 350 migrants every day. According to the Greek government, there were 45,000 illegal border crossings in the first six months of 2010 alone. The European Union estimates that 90 percent of all people caught attempting to enter the political bloc illegally are apprehended along the Greek border.

Overstretched border guards, police stations and migrant detention centers are now in "a critical state" in Greece, the United Nations has warned. Overcrowding has meant that migrants are suffering "inhuman and degrading treatment," a UN official added.

The EU's Warsaw-based Frontex border agency is tasked with coordinating the border security of all member states. Frontex officials claim that a large number of the immigrants from Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Iran enter into Greece with the intention of traveling to other EU member states.

The RABIT teams will be coordinated by Frontex but will act "under the authority of Greece," European Commission officials stated. Their members will be acting as officers of the Greek national border guard, but they will bear the EU insignia and they will be armed and authorized to use force if necessary. RABIT teams will also be granted access to Greek intelligence databases.

'A Truly European Problem'

Under European law asylum seekers can only apply for asylum status in the country that was their port of entry into the EU in order to prevent migrants from submitting applications in more than one land. The EU's 2003 Dublin Regulation (third country regulation) gives member states the right to deport asylum seekers back to their entry country. Under the regulation, however, southern Europe receives the brunt of illegal immigrants to the EU.

A recent UN fact-finding mission found Greece, in particular, to be bearing an unacceptable burden. UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak said "Greece should not carry the burden of the vast majority of all irregular migrants entering the European Union" and called for a joint European solution to what he called a "truly European problem."

On Tuesday, German editorialists take up the issue, offering critical persectives of the current EU regulations.

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"On the surface, this may seem like a Greek problem. And it is also certain that the authorities there responded too late. Apparently Athens was of the opinion that restrictive handling and at times illegal treatment of the refugees would have a deterrent effect."

"But the influx of refugees is a European issue. The so-called 'third-country' ( passport-free travel from Estonia to Portugal) regulation stipulates that asylum seekers can only apply for asylum in their country of arrival. They can be deported back there by other EU countries. The consequence is that refugees can only apply for asylum in Germany if they arrive in the country via the North or Baltic seas. Needless to say, there are few who do so."

"This has defused the situation in countries without external EU borders, but it has considerably exacerbated the problem in the border states. Greece has the misfortune to preside over the last eye of the needle through which refugees, albeit illegally, can enter into an EU country. Bit by bit, the EU has sealed its borders. If one loophole is stopped up, people look for another."

"It's not just Greece that suffers from this, but also the refugees who are kept at bay using harsh methods and, at times, aren't treated with the dignity worthy of humans."

"For the EU this means it must better distribute the burden of the influx of refugees -- by no longer returning refugees to countries that are already overwhelmed, for exampe. And, in its own interest, the EU must not only fight the influx of refugees, but also the original causes of their flight to Europe."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Conditions in Greece can no longer be ignored. It would be a joke to speak of any asylum procedure there at all; it is simply no longer in place because the authorities are overwhelmed. Thousands of people who get stranded there don't have the faintest chance of a fair judgment of the conditions that drove them to Europe. They will be deposited in overfilled refugee camps or detention centers where they will have to wait many years before anybody gets around to dealing with their case."

"The EU is aware of the situation and knows that it is a logical consequence of its asylum policy, which imposes all the burden on the southern European nations. Italy and Spain have managed to fight against the immigration pressure reasonably successfully; but in Greece, where by far the majority of refugees arrive, that hasn't been the case."

"The European Union is insisting on a reform of the local immigration system, making money available, sending experts and now a few hundred border guards. But that's not enough. The EU partners should finally stop the shameful practice of sending refugees back to the chaos in Greece. This also goes for to the German government."


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