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Greece Proposes Border Fence to Stem Tide of Illegal Immigrants; EU Says Not So Fast

Greece has decided to build a 12-kilometer fence along its border with neighboring Turkey -- an attempt to curb illegal immigration into the European Union.

According to Greece, the influx of immigrants has taken a burdensome toll on the country's economy. Greek Public Order Minister Christos Papoutsis announced the decision, calling it a "necessary" step as the country "can no longer tolerate such high numbers" of illegal immigrants.

The proposed fence will be built in one of the busiest thoroughfares for illegal traffic, along the country's only overland border with Turkey. According to the European Union border control agency Frontex, in October 2010, this area saw an average of 245 people illegally crossing into Greece every day. The other areas of the Greece-Turkey border are covered by a river where illegal migrants usually cross into the country on inflatable boats.

The Communist Party of Greece has joined international humanitarian groups in denouncing the measure, calling it "barbaric." Activists also have expressed concern that the fence will prohibit asylum seekers and others looking for safety.

The proposed border fence is a "strong measure," says Kalliopi Stefanaki, the UNHCR protection officer for Greece, but every country has a right to protect its own borders, she says.

"We agree that Greece in entitled to enhance security at its borders in any way it sees fit," she said. "What we are concerned about is that the rights of those who want to cross this, or any other border, to request protection are protected."

Meanwhile, the European Union has approved the border fence as a "short-term measure," but is dismissing plans for a permanent fence:

An estimated 90 percent of all illegal immigrants who enter the European Union do so through Greece.

Daniel Esdras, the head of the Greek office for the International Organization for Migration, says the border is not Greece's to protect. "The idea of building more walls around a Fortress Europe is outdated," he says. "These are not just Greece's borders, but also those of the European Union. And people will carry on trying to reach a better life unless conditions in their home countries are improved. This is something governments should together be focusing on."

No official timeline on the border fence's construction has been given and Greece's Public Order Ministry says the proposal is still at an initial stage.

One last thing…
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