Why don't we kick out illegal immigrants?

Greece - the poisoned paradise for immigrants

The Greek-Turkish border, which runs through the green valley of the Evros River, has become a favorite passage for smugglers and migrants who want to avoid the dangerous sea routes to Europe, European officials report. At times, 90 percent of all illegal immigrants came to the EU this way, according to data from the European border protection agency Frontex. Last year, 55,000 illegal border crossings from Turkey to Greece were registered. Greek officials expect more than 100,000 immigrants this year.

"My country is very dangerous," says Abdulkadir Osman. "There is peace and stability in Greece." The 18-year-old Somali crossed the border into Greece with eight other men just a few hours ago. Now he's sitting on a sidewalk in a nearby border town, resting from the rigors of the journey.

Many think so, but once the immigrants get to know the hopeless situation and unemployment in Greece, only a few want to stay. But as easy as it is to get into Greece, it is just as difficult to travel from here to other EU countries, many report. In order to get on board an airplane, you have to buy fake identity documents from smugglers. If you don't want to do this, you have to try the risky land or sea route. "Greece is a big cage," says a refugee from Africa.

Nobody knows exactly how high the number of unregistered refugees is in Greece. Experts estimate it to be between 400,000 and 700,000. You can see them homeless and unemployed in cities everywhere - in large squares as well as in parks. This stirs up a xenophobic mood, the number of violent, racist attacks has risen to an "alarming level", denounces the human rights organization Human Rights Watch. In the spring, right-wing extremists literally hunted down foreigners in parts of Athens with a high proportion of refugees. At least 25 people were hospitalized with punch and stab wounds, Human Rights Watch reports.

The growing number of foreigners brings new supporters to the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, which promises to "cleanse" Greece of migrants. The country's established parties, from which many voters have already run away because of the economic crisis, have also taken a harder line when it comes to immigration.

"We have to recapture our cities," says Antonis Samaras, whose center-right Nea Dimokratia party received the most votes in last Sunday's elections. He has already referred to illegal immigrants as "tyrants".

Human rights activists have been criticizing Greece for its backward and non-functional asylum system for years. They accuse Athens of failing to fulfill its duty to provide accommodation and assistance to asylum seekers. In addition, the conditions in the asylum seeker camps are inhuman.

The Greek government, on the other hand, sees progress in asylum policy, but feels overwhelmed by the large influx. "The result is tragic for a country in severe economic crisis," said Greek Minister for Civil Protection, Michalis Chrisochoidis, to journalists last month.

EU funds are seeping into the Greek bureaucracy

According to EU legislation, the responsibility for processing asylum applications lies with the country in which refugees first enter the EU. However, last year the European Court of Human Rights stopped the transfer of an asylum seeker from Belgium to Greece, citing the poor living conditions there. Many European countries have stopped sending migrants to Greece since then.

The European Commission has transferred a total of 304 million euros to Greece between 2007 and today, with which the country should improve its asylum system. A large part of this money has so far remained unused because of the Greek bureaucracy, says an EU spokesman.

Frontex border guards assist the Greek authorities in monitoring the border and helping to determine the nationality of illegal immigrants. This is the first step towards a possible extradition. Most recently, Afghans and Pakistani were among the largest ethnic groups to immigrate to Greece via Turkey.

The Greek Ministry of Citizens' Protection has declared that it wants to get illegal immigrants out of the cities faster. To this end, 30 deportation camps with space for up to 30,000 people are to be built. In addition, the deportation process is to be accelerated.

Border fence plans are causing trouble

However, deportations and the return of refugees to Turkey are often illegal or at least very complicated, according to Greek officials. Many migrants who are tracked down by the police would be released after a short time - with the condition that they leave the country within 30 days. Most of them stayed much longer.

On a particularly permeable part of the border with Turkey, Greece is trying to limit the influx with a ten-kilometer fence. The plan has been criticized as a useless device by other EU countries, which complain that most refugees from Greece travel further north.

Some European politicians see the Greek failure on immigration as a risk for the principle of open borders to which most EU states have submitted under the so-called Schengen Agreement.

"If countries like Greece fail to control their external borders, we must be able to temporarily control the internal borders again," said Federal Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich recently to the Rheinische Post. "The open borders within the Schengen area must not become a gateway for illegal migration flows."

The Greek government sees no signs of a slowdown in the influx from Turkey. Lured by reports about the alleged conductance of the border crossing, thousands set off.

"You think you will find a good life here"

Not all of them survive the flight to Europe. In Sidor, a Greek mountain village near the border, a number of anonymous graves commemorate those refugees who drowned while crossing the Evros River.

"They believe that they will find a good life here," sat Hasan Saramet. The 70-year-old is the imam of the Sidor mosque, where the Turkish-speaking minority of the village prays. In this capacity he conducts Muslim funerals. As he walks along the rows of graves, he points to a fresh opening. A 16-year-old girl from Afghanistan is lying here, explains Saramet. Your sister is still missing. "How did the parents cry," reports the imam of the funeral.

While some risk their lives to get to Greece, others try to escape at the border. back Ahmed Takia, a 40-year-old man from Algeria, says he crossed the border into Greece three weeks ago. He had traveled across the country by train and was looking for work. He didn't find any.

When he had to search for leftover food in garbage cans, Takia decided to go back to Turkey. Here, he hopes, the chances of a job and a better life are significantly greater.

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