Greece wants to install floating barriers in the Aegean Sea to prevent migrants from reaching the islands from Turkey. Nearly 60,000 migrants arrived on Greece’s shores last year.
The Greek defense ministry published a call for tenders on Wednesday for the installation of a "floating protection system" in the sea off the island of Lesbos to stop people from arriving from the Turkish coast.
According to the tender specifications, the barrier will initially be 2.7-3 kilometers long. It will stand half a meter above the surface of the water and be equipped with flashing lights to make it visible at night.
"We want to see whether it can be implemented and whether it can work," the Greek defense minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, told Skai TV on Thursday. "It will be a natural barrier. If it works like the one in Evros, I believe it can be effective," he said.
In 2012, Greece set up a cement and barbed-wire fence along its northern land border with Turkey to stop a growing number of migrants from entering the country.
Some reports suggest that the installation of the barrier will take months, but no details on the timeframe have been released. The Greek Ministry of Defense put the cost at half a million euros.
An official told the Reuters news agency that if the project is successful, the length of the barrier could be extended to 13-15 kilometers.
A Greek coastguard officer, who asked not to be named, told dpa in Athens: "I don't understand how exactly the barrier will stop the people from reaching Greece." Even if it does, he added, they will become stranded on the Greek high seas and will have to be rescued under maritime rules.
Boris Cheshirkov, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said Greece must keep human rights in sight. He told dpa that while the country has a right to protect its borders "as it deems fit," Greece needs to be aware that "many of the migrants reaching its shores actually are refugees."
The floating barrier is the latest in a number of proposals by Greece aimed at limiting migrant arrivals, as tens of thousands of migrants remain stranded on the Aegean islands in worsening conditions.
Last year, 59,726 migrants and refugees reached Greece’s shores, nearly double the number recorded in 2018, according to the UNHCR. There are now more than 40,000 migrants in and around reception centers on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos which were built for up to 7,500.
While the government has tried to address the overcrowding by transferring migrants to the mainland, thousands of Greek islanders joined protests last week demanding change.
This week the government announced that 1,200 extra border police would be deployed to the land frontier with Turkey and on the islands. According to dpa, Greece has also increased the rate of returns to Turkey under the EU-Turkey agreement that was reached in 2016.