The Greek wall and Fortress Europe: security prioritized in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice

, by Quentin Boulanger, Translated by Charles Hanks

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The Greek wall and Fortress Europe: security prioritized in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice

United States – Mexico; Israel – West Bank; South Africa – Mozambique. Each of these barriers of separation has already been labelled a “wall of shame”, including by the European Union and its member states. However, it is on the EU’s border, in Greece, that the construction of a new wall is being planned. As an insurmountable obstacle for asylum seekers, it will inevitably lead to desperate attempts to overcome it and the turning away of migrants towards more dangerous routes – so in what way would this wall be more legitimate than the others? Does its contribution to security really justify the sacrifices to freedom and the respect of human rights?

The border between Greece and Turkey is the most porous in Europe despite the support Greek customs receive from Frontex. So while the other Member States are criticising Greece for its lack of control over the situation, on 4th January the country’s authorities announced their decision to erect a wall in the most problematic area of the border with Turkey. Let us go back to explore this highly criticised measure.

The fight against illegal immigration and the importance of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ)

In the Single European Act of 1986, then again in the 1990 Schengen Treaty, the prospect of the internal market and the suppression of border controls within the EU highlighted the need for compensatory measures. These most notably took the form of more effective external border controls to counter trans-national criminality and to immigration. This concern was subsequently confirmed with the creation of the AFSJ in the Treaty of Amsterdam, which integrated Schengen into the treaties. The Lisbon Treaty developed a common policy regarding asylum, immigration and external border controls while maintaining the same perspective. Nevertheless, the key point about the AFSJ’s asylum and immigration plan is that immigration poses practical questions in terms of a balance between security and freedom, and between border controls and respect for fundamental rights. Currently, the security aspect has clearly dominated, with measures focused more on the fight against illegal immigration, rather than on legal migration channels and migrant integration. However, the link made recently between migration and development, and the willingness for a global approach to the issue opens up the prospect of restoring the balance.

Greece: reflection of trend in ideas on immigration

The easing of internal border controls calls for external border control measures that are at once prescriptive and operational. The situation in Greece has recently demanded the implication of all the tools at their disposal. Regarding prescriptive measures, Greece, like all the Member States in the Schengen Area, has adopted common standards and procedures of control. As for operational measures, the cooperation between states is organised by different texts and by Frontex, the European agency created in 2004 to manage the operational cooperation of external borders. This agency, whose role is essentially to come out in support of Member States on the subject of border control, has been in Greece since October 2010. Greece, incapable of single-handedly managing the immigration via the islands separating it from Turkey, has requested the deployment of RABITS (Rapid Border Intervention Teams). This has resulted in employing some 200 specialists to control the border. However, this strategy has turned out to be insufficient to curb the influx of immigrants who have simply avoided the islands in favour of the overland border. It is in this context that Greece announced on 4th January the construction of a wall along the Turkish border, particularly the most sensitive 12km stretch, where the border deviates from the Evros River.

A barrier against immigration: a visible step but how effective?

Following the announcement of this wall-building project, the reactions came thick and fast. Security commissioner Cecilia Malmström sees walls and wire fences as “short term measures, which fail to deal with migration flows in a structural way”. The intervention is in line with the global approach to migration recommended in the Stockholm programme, which emphasised the need to put the phenomenon in a wider context, taking into account the factors causing migration. In her speech, the commissioner from Sweden also highlighted that building a wall does not put an end to the problem, merely diverting it. The population, as well as the facts, confirm this; according to Ioannis Stefanakis, an inhabitant of the area, “if they are blocked by the wall, the migrants will simply cross the river”. This bypassing tactic is well-known, experienced first-hand by the EU and by Spain; following the construction of barriers around the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, migrants then took the more dangerous route leading them to the Canary Islands. Aside from its debatable effectiveness, the construction of this wall poses wider ethical questions concerning not just Greece but the whole of the EU. In forcing migrants to take more and more hazardous routes, the EU is the indirect cause of hundreds of deaths every year. With more and more crossing points closing and a lack of information, the correlation between illegal migrants and criminality continues to grow stronger, while the possibility for asylum seekers to make their case is limited. Greece’s construction of the wall therefore reflects the wider problem that is the priority given to the fight against immigration rather than other aspects of external border crossings.

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