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It's Israel's Fault: The Great Wall of Greece

Desperate to stem flow of illegal immigrants, Greece will build a fence on its border with Turkey. Idea comes from Israel, taunts Turkish paper.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 1/5/2011, 8:28 PM / Last Update: 1/6/2011, 9:37 AM

 

Despite the country's economic difficulties, Greece will start building a 128 mile wall at the Evros River separating Greece from Turkey. Greece claims that more than 100,000 illegal immigrants arrived in the country last years with many traveling thousands of miles from places as far away as Myanmar (Burma) to seek asylum in the European Union. Since Greece is part of the Schengen Agreement that does away with borders between most countries of the European Union, once the immigrants have made it into Greece they are free to move unchecked throughout most of the European Union.

The immigrants generally claim political asylum and verification is endless. Greece has a backlog buildup of 45,000 cases. The European Union is cognizant that Greece should not have to bear the burden alone and has sent 175 guards from its Frontex border guards to help police the border, but in vain. Greece has not received full backing from the European Union and in fact European Union Commission spokesperson Michele Cercone mildly condemned the plan. "Fences and walls have proven in the past to be really short-term measures that do not really help in addressing and managing the migratory challenges in a more consolidated and structural way.'

But until the consolidated and structural way emerges, Greece believes that it has no choice. Domestically the planned fence was attacked from both the right and left. The right complained that the government had been too tardy in implementing the measure while the Communists condemned it as barbaric and humane. The conservative daily Kathermini dismissed the critics "Those who are opposed to the idea should first come up with alternative proposals on ways to deal with the issue of illegal migration. Most importantly, though, they should also be aware of the magnitude of this problem for a country like Greece, on the threshold of Europe, and especially when it is facing the economic difficulties that it is."

Some critics of the plan feared that it gave concrete expression, literally and figuratively, to the idea of establishing a barrier between Fortress Europe and countries like Turkey. In Turkey itself opinions were divided. Gökhan Sözer, the governor of Turkey's northwestern province of Edirne that borders on Greece, lauded the plan as a practical measure for preventing illegal emigration.

The newspaper Zaman,  allied with the Erdogan government, was scathing in its response. It viewed the plan as directed against Turkey and insinuated that it was a payoff for the recent financial bailout of Greece "This wall symbolizes one and only thing -- declaring physically that Turkey is outside of Europe. Maybe the partners who have helped Greece economically have asked for this favor."

Zaman opined that Greece would have to keep out immigrants arriving by boat and would therefore strengthen security measures in the Aegean Sea. This in turn would provoke tensions with Turkey. As part of the current anti-Israeli climate in Turkey, the paper could not resist a pot-shot at Israel in connection with the Greek plan. This plan, said Zaman, was "reminiscent of Israel, which has, in doing so, become a country that has put itself in a prison while trying to protect its borders. Maybe this wall idea came from the Israelis with whom Greeks are now good friends."