General Assembly 2011/migratory flows: Alexandroupolis and the refugees crisis

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Efus invited two representatives of the Greek town of Alexandroupolis to its general assembly, the mayor, Evaggelos Lambakis , and Dimitri Rossakis, who is in charge of human resources at the Greek consulting firm Eurotec and specialises in local development. Following an invitation by Mr Lambakis, members of Efus executive committee visited Alexandroupolis in April 2011, and met local representatives to talk about the situation created by the massive influx of illegal immigrants. In January 2011 the Greek government announced its plan to build a wall along its border with Turkey in the north-east of the country, in the region of Evros, where Alexandroupolis is situated.

There are some 100,000 inhabitants in this region and, according to Mr Lambakis, it has received around 50,000 immigrants over the past few months, most of them coming from the Middle East and North Africa, particularly Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Algeria and Morocco. Local municipalities are overwhelmed by this inflow of refugees and, according to Mr Lambakis, local businesses are being affected, in particular in the tourism sector, while some inhabitants have chosen to leave the region. He added that fortunately , no major security incident has been noted so far except some petty theft.

As soon as they arrive, refugees are intercepted by the European frontier police, Frontex. “They are scanned, they receive a sandwich and then, they’re on their own,” said Michel Marcus, who stressed that most immigrants held qualified jobs in their country of origin. “The problem is that this region has no land access to the countries of the Schengen space. Immigrants are thus stuck in Greece,” he added.

The Greek Minister of Citizens Protection, Christos Papoutsis, announced a few weeks ago that authorities would go ahead with the building of the wall, a project developed in cooperation with the European Union, and that they would also build new detention centres in the region close to the border with Turkey. According to Michel Marcus, “Closing the land frontier would lead immigrants to try to secretly cross the Evros river. Smugglers routinely ask €5,000 to do this. Such a measure would inevitably foster organised crime.”

Greek municipalities bear most of the burden of this situation since they have to manage its financial, human and social consequences. This is why Efus recently adopted a resolution calling Europe to help them. “Europe is building the Great Wall of China,” said Guilherme Pinto, president of Efus. “But what is going on now is not a Greek problem nor a problem that concerns only cities. It is an urgent matter that must be dealt at the European level. Europe must help these municipalities.”

Guilherme Pinto added that Efus would present its resolution on migratory flows to the Committee of the Regions.