Feb. 9, 2012 – In a bid to curb the number of illegal immigrants that enter the country, Greece has begun construction on a 6 mile-long, 13 foot-tall barbed-wire-topped fence along its border with Turkey, EUObserver reports.
The fence — to be completed in September in the Evros region on the Greek-Turkish border — will be equipped with a network of night-vision cameras providing live feed to a new command center, according to Greek newspaper ENet. The project will cost cash-strapped Greece about €5.5 million ($7.3 million).
Greece is one of the 26 EU nations part of the Schengen Area, which has external border controls but none within the zone. And since Greece is on the edge of the area, and Turkey has not signed the Schengen Agreement, Greece is required to maintain its border controls, according to the AP.
To make matters more complicated, Turkey’s lax visa requirements mean that nationals from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Jordan, Libya, and Iran do not need a visa to enter Turkey, making Greece the most common illegal entrypoint into Europe. The Greek-Turkish border is 180 kilometers (112 miles) long.
While the European Commission called the fence a national issue, it criticized it as being a “pointless” short-term solution.
Christos Papoustis (sic), a former European commissioner and currently Greece’s minister for citizen protection said the fence has both “practical and symbolic value.” “Traffickers should know that this route will be closed to them. Their life is about to get much harder,” he said.
According to official figures, around 55,000 migrants were arrested in the area last year Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reports.
NGOs are worried that fencing off the land border will divert refugees fleeing violence in Africa and the Middle East to more dangerous routes in the Balkans or Ukraine, the EUObserver says.
After a significant number of studies and reports on the effectiveness of a variety of measures on blocking international migration (or even plain old common sense) the Greek government should have figured out that fences are generally a very stupid idea! NGOs may be missing here another level of tragic “unseen” results of the fence policy – that is, the many more drownings in the Aegean Sea since the barrier will push immigrants and their slave-traders to increasingly pursue sea routes in more dangerous conditions! This has been the international experience e.g. in the case of crossings at more remote locations on the US-Mexico border.
There is of course also a longer-term perspective on what the country will eventually be missing out when it spends money on blocking people instead of governing their wider integration and participation in the commons. I defer to Sir Peter Hall and Chapter 2 of his “door-stop” volume Cities in Civilization, titled ‘The Fountainhead’ (not THAT Fountainhead), examining the city of Athens at its most enlightened period in history: 500 – 400 BC. After describing the rather cushy everyday lives of the Athenian citizenry, which essentially formed a “gigantic civil service” (sounds familiar?), the author moves on to discussion the class of the metics, the productive pillar of ancient Athens – a class of residents that the city would have missed out on in a hypothetical regime of fence-building:
Yet someone had to keep the economy going. In this extraordinary society, a peculiar but vitally important position was held by the resident aliens or metics. The so-called ‘metoikoi’ were in fact a small though special sub-group, who made a special tax called ‘metoikion’ to live in Athens permanently, of a much larger group of free migrants or ‘katoikoi’. These ‘katoikountes’ included very large numbers on non-Hellenes; though the majority were Greeks [...], including ex-slaves who had found their freedom, by the fourth century BC they also included Thracians, Phrygians, Carians, Paphlagonians, Celts, Lydians, Syrians , Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Arabians, Scythians, and Persians.
The metics had no political rights (politics was the primary concern of citizens) and could not own land, but did enjoy “personal freedom, protection of the law, liberty of worship and almost unlimited work opportunities”. They essentially run the economy – by the fourth century, they constituted about half of all professionals!:
Here, ‘their keenness and energy are amazing’: ‘They do everything… The Metics do the removal of rubbish, mason’s work, and plastering, they capture the wood trade, timber construction, and rough carpentry, metal work and all subsidiary occupations are in their hands [...]. Metics played and equally prominent part in art, medicine and, above all, philosophy. ‘To art it was but a step from industry’, since the craftsmen became artists. [...] Athens, the city that gave them hospitality, owed its striking intellectual achievements overwhelmingly to them, as it drew on the intellectual resources of the entire eastern Mediterranean, to become Europe’s first truly cosmopolitan city.
Greece in the time of the Troika and deep recession admittedly presents some complications in the idea of uncontrolled migration. Migrants that enter a country dominated by lawlessness and unaccountability may adopt the bad behaviors of their hosts. But it may also be that one of the solutions to our current problems is an external “imported” re-invigoration of economic activity (and yes, culture!) through openness to all immigrants and especially those who bring important skills in crafts, are dynamic and entrepreneurial, and thirsty for building up their livelihoods, achieving significant improvements in their quality of life.