Located a few kilometres away from Turkey, in the North-East of Greece, the city of Alexandroupolis, member of the Forum, is the most affected by the project of the government of George Papandreou to build up a wall along the border, in order to curb illegal immigration. The president of the Forum, Guillermo Pinto, has written to the Mayor of Alexandroupolis, Evaggelos Lambakis, to voice his concerns about this project. The latter answered by calling for the opening of a debate within the network on the importance of illegal immigration in urban policies, emphasising that municipalities like his are directly affected by this phenomenon.
In addition, Alexandroupolis sent three delegates to the Forum Executive Committee that took place in Vienna on February 24th, and has invited members of the EC to visit the city and the region where the wall would be built.
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Last December, the Greek government announced its project to build a three metres high wall along a stretch of 12 km on its border with Turkey, in the North-East region of Thrace, where there are no natural barriers. According to Athens, around 128,000 immigrants have illegally entered Greece through this region last year, and 90% of illegal immigration flows to Europe transit through the country.
The European Union expressed strong reservations about the project. “Walls or fences are short-term measures that are not meant to deal with the question of illegal immigration in a structural way”, said a spokesman of the commissioner in charge of security, Cecilia Malmström. The United Nations have condemned the Greek initiative. Since then, Bulgaria (who wishes to enter the Schengen area), has announced it will also build a wall on its border with Turkey.
Apart from the issue of security, the situation at the frontier is threatening to become a dramatic human rights issue. Indeed, in a report published on March 8, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) describes the dramatic situation prevailing in the retention centers installed along the frontier. Also, the agency states that Greek authorities have not taken any emergency measures, in spite of available European funds. There is a lack of coordination locally, mainly because areas of competences are not clearly defined.
The Turkish government, who faces its own immigration issues with flows coming from the Middle East, Asia, the Caucasus, and in growings numbers Africa, stayed away from the controversy.
During a visit in Athens last January, the then French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux expressed his support for the project of the Greek government.
(sources: The Guardian, Le Monde)