The economic crisis coupled with an increase in racist and state agents violence, the lack of a functioning asylum system and of social welfare have led amongst others to a decrease in border crossings into Europe through Greece. Frontex reported that in 2011 only 40% of illegal entries into Europe occurred through the Greek borders, compared to 90% in the years before.
From August 2012 until October the police arrested 1.439 persons for illegal entry through the land border of Evros. Border crossings dropped compared to 2011 94%, when the police had detected 23.565 persons in the same period.
This sudden drop of border crossings can be explained in a large part due to the deployment of more than 1.800 special border policemen who were sent with 200 vehicles to Evros by the Greek government in the frame of the police operation “Xenios Zeus” and to a lesser extend perhaps to the proceeded construction of a special 3,2 Million Euro fence.
Despite the fact that arrivals have decreased at the land border in Evros and despite some renovations carried out in the Borderguard Sations of Soufli, Tyhero, Ferres and the detention center of Fylakio detention conditions remain poor and human rights violations in the area continue.
Another reason for the further drop of border crossings in Evros was the change of migration routes back to the Aegean islands – despite the desperate efforts of the government to stop people from coming to Greece by all means. From August 1 until September 17 813 refugees arrived on Samos, Lesbos, Rhodos, Symi, Leros and other islands. Numbers approx. doubled compared to the last year in August. In September and October numbers of arrivals only on Lesbos island have reached 500 and 800 already.
The prefectures and local authorities were not ready to host the increasing arrivals of refugees. Most of the refugees who arrive mainly from Syria and Afghanistan are either detained in overcrowded police or coast guard cells or left outside in yards or on the streets. On Samos island 35 Syrian refugees protested against the lack of access to asylum and the detention conditions in the beginning of September through a hunger strike.
While the general order since August 2012 of the police was to keep everybody as long as possible under arrest, authorities of the Aegean started having troubles with that very soon. First they tried transferring small groups to other detention centres on the mainland, but today many new arriving refugees are just left to survive by themselves outside without being able to find a shelter or to leave.
While Greece is still unsuccessfully struggling with Turkey in the application of the Readmission Agreement to complete more returns, push-backs seem to have become again a part of border policies in Evros. Refugees report of illegal forced returns conducted by Greek officers on the border, either directly upon arrival or also after some hours of stay in Greece.
The militarisation of the border has high costs. On the Greek side of the river Evros yearly 100 corpses of migrants are found. The real number of border deaths cannot be estimated though. In the Aegean the tragedy of a boat that sank near Izmir on September 6, 2012 cost the lives of more than 61 refugees who were mainly coming from Syria – among the dead most were small children. Only a few days later more than 30 refugees drowned near by Agathonisi island when they had jumped of their boat in fear of the Greek coast guard and Frontex. They thought they would be returned to Turkey.
Pro Asyl, Infomobile & GCR 2012: Walls of Shame: Accounts from the Inside. The Detention Centers of Evros.
GCR 2012: Report on the detention conditions of unaccompanied minors in Evros – in greek
About the Aegean islands:
GCR September 2012: About Agathonisi, Leros & Kos – in greek
GCR September 2012: About Symi Island