Greece has announced plans to construct a 2.7km long netted sea barrier off the island of Lesbos in order to deter migrants crossing from neighboring Turkey. The barrier, which is planned to rise 17 inches above sea-level, will be equipped with lights and reflectors in order to mark clearly Greece’s sea borders, and is estimated to cost around 500,000 euros to manufacture. The Greek government has invited offers from private contractors to help construct the barrier, with help from the military, and is planned to be completed by the end of April.
Speaking to Skai Radio, Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos stated, “In Evros, the natural barriers had relative results in containing flows,” referring to the barbed wire topped fences built along the countries’ northern land border with Turkey. “We believe a similar result can be had with these floating barriers. We are trying to find solutions to reduce flows.” In a rebuke of these plans, Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Europe, said: “This proposal marks an alarming escalation in the Greek government’s ongoing efforts to make it as difficult as possible for asylum-seekers and refugees to arrive on its shores and will lead to more danger for those desperately seeking safety.” Criticism of the plan has also come from within the country, with former Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas stating that, “The idea that a fence of this length is going to work is totally stupid. It’s not going to stop anybody making the journey.”
Since the European migrant crisis began in 2015, Greece has seen some of the highest numbers of migrant arrivals within Europe. In 2015, 856,723 migrants arrived by sea, with a further 4,907 arriving by land. Despite the high number of migrants currently residing within Greece, specifically on the islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios, the number of migrant arrivals has seen a sharp decline since 2015. The number of sea arrivals fell to 29,718 in 2017 but had since risen to 59,726 in 2019. Already, in 2020 there have been 3,445 land and sea arrivals. Though arrivals have fallen since 2015, Greece has been unable to successfully handle the influx of migrants. At Moria, the largest camp on Lesbos, 19,000 asylum seekers live in a camp with a capacity of only 2,840.
The Greek’s government plans to deter migrants from making the crossing to Greece is a plan which fails to deal with the main issues facing the countries’ migrant crisis and can only be seen as a weak effort to enforce any sort of plan which benefits both the migrants and the Greek people. Any plan with the potential to increase the danger migrants face should be rightly condemned, UNHCR data shows that from 2014-18, 1,878 migrants were dead or missing in their attempts to enter Greece, and though data for 2019 is not yet available, it is assumed the number will rise from 2018 with the greater number of migrants arriving from the previous year.
The plan to build a sea-barrier on the island of Lesbos seems a feeble attempt by the Greek government to provide any sort of comprehensive plan to deal with the main issues facing Greece in its migrant crisis, and seems only to worsen the conditions for migrants already willing to risk their lives in order to find safety. Currently, Greek citizens in Lesbos, Samos and Chios are protesting the overcrowding of their islands and migrants and the poor living conditions to which they have been subjected. The priority of Greece’s government should be to first resolve these issues, rather than putting in place barriers to worsen the danger facing migrants.
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