The EU stands on guard

Illegal migrants crossing into the European Union through Greece’s land border with Turkey

by Julia Belluz

The EU stands on guard

Photography Hollandse Hoogte

While the world watched Greece burn in response to austerity measures for a failing economy, the country was also quietly trying to quell another crisis: a dramatic increase in the number of illegal migrants crossing into the European Union through Greece’s land border with Turkey.

Though the overall number of undocumented migrants entering Europe has decreased of late, the trend in Greece has gone the other way; it currently accounts for 90 per cent of detected illegal border crossings into the EU. This influx has so overwhelmed Greece that it called on Brussels for help. In response, the EU sent over its Rapid Border Intervention Teams, a multinational armed force set up in 2007 but deployed for the first time to guard Greece’s external borders.

Of the illegal migrants showing up in Greece, about half are Albanians looking for seasonal work. Others claim to be Afghan and Iraqi, seeking asylum. Many will end up in overcrowded detention facilities. And few have papers, so repatriating them can be difficult. So much so that, as of August, the backlog of people seeking asylum in Greece numbered 52,000 cases.




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