Greek authorities are preparing to boost border protection measures, fearing rising migrant flows following a devastating earthquake on February 6 in Turkey and Syria.
Attempts by undocumented migrants to cross into Greece on boats from Turkey have been on the rise since the fall, according to Greek government figures published last month.
The Greek government expects that more people will be encouraged to cross into Europe due to the onset of the upcoming spring, as well as the widespread destruction and misery brought on by the earthquake in Syria and Turkey.
"We must take into account that there have been a large number of Syrians who have been living with restrictions, and now that those geographical restrictions have been lifted we will see internal movement in Turkey, as well as Turkish citizens; if there is not an effort by the international community to support Turkey within Turkey, then there will be a great effort by Syrians or Turks to come to Europe," said Greece's Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi in a recent interview with Greek television channel Open.
'Fear of new incidents after March 2020'
There are fears that there could be a repeat of the incidents of March 2020 when Turkey allowed thousands of migrants to cross the land border with Greece, but Greek authorities stood their ground, the minister noted.
He added: "Since March 2020, when we experienced the incidents in Evros, our country has shown that it can protect its borders. There is a humanitarian problem in Turkey, we hope that the rapprochement of the two countries will be helped, we consider it positive that the two governments can talk again. All this does not mean, however, that we will discount our positions in the context of international law; we are open to dialogue and firm in our positions."
Mitarachi concluded: "We remain vigilant, it is a given that our country will continue to guard its borders. We are under tremendous pressure at home from outside the country to guard the border. I want to make a note that for the political guarding of the borders we receive criticism from [opposing political parties] SYRIZA and PASOK, and in the European Parliament."
50 new vessels to step up protection of sea border
Greece has been in the spotlight in recent months following a series of tragic shipwrecks that claimed more lives of migrants, including children.
And it was announced that the coast guard is being strengthened with an investment of €105 million to step up the protection of the sea border. The money will be provided by the Administrative Authority of the Ministry of Immigration & Asylum, with co-financing by the European Union from the Migration and Home Affairs Funds.
According to a press release on the Ministry of Migration and Asylum's website, the money will be used for the acquisition of 50 new coast guard vessels.
"Through this action, the operational capacity of the Hellenic Coast Guard will be strengthened, which will contribute to the control and monitoring of illegal migration flows, the protection of human life and the fight against crime at the sea borders," said the media statement.
The vessels to be purchased are the following: two coastal patrol boats of over 30 meters, five high-speed patrol boats of over 17.5 meters, two special operations vessels -- patrols of the Submarine Missions Unit, 11 high-speed patrol boats of up to 13 meters, with medical equipment for the transport of sick / injured, 10 pursuit patrol boats of over 18 meters, and 20 high-speed patrol boats of up to 13 meters.
Border fence to be reinforced
The 35-kilometer extension of the border fence between Greece and Turkey at Evros, where the incidents of March 2020 took place, will be completed in the next 10 months, according to Citizen Protection Minister Takis Theodorikakos.
The contractor for the project has been selected and the project will go ahead once the Court of Audit approves it, Theodorakis said in an interview with Greek television channel Skai on Sunday (February 19). It will cost an estimated €100 million, to be paid for by the state budget, but Theodorikakos stated that EU countries "must comprehend that the borders at Evros are not just Greece's borders, they are also Europe's borders with Turkey."
Theodorikakos also referred to the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, and the help the Greek people and the state sent."Everyone [in Greece] is helping Turkey to stand on its feet again, but there is a danger that this entire issue turns into new strong migratory pressure."