Greece has been erecting concrete walls around several refugee camps across the country, in a move decried by human rights groups.
Wired concertina fencing has in the past stood between asylum seekers in waiting who are being housed in Greece, and the surrounding areas. A change in policy has three-meter-high concrete walls being erected at four camps on the mainland.
The Ministry of Migration and Asylum cites “modernization” for the change from the wire to concrete barriers. The fencing is meant to keep residents inside the camps safe from trespassers, according to the Ministry.
Its residents view the concrete as one more way to “criminalize” migration by fortifying the barriers. They say they already feel imprisoned as they wait for months without news on their asylum status.
Refugee Facilities Modernized
“All facilities will be modernized,” Giannis Kabourakis, from the Ministry’s Press Office, told wearesolomon.com, speaking about the concrete walls under construction at Diavata, Malakasa, Ritsona, and Polykastro.
“All facilities will have a perimeter fence, an electronic entry-exit system and individual entry-exit cards,” Kabourakis added.
The spokesman referred to a plan for transforming the current facilities into “closed and contained.” The reason for creating the wall is “to strengthen the sense of security for all involved, both local communities and camp residents. No one will be able to enter or leave,” he said.
In spite of assurances that daily life will not change for camp residents, a call for bids that was published by the government reveals extensive measures to amplify security measures in refugee camps across Greece.
Electronic Surveillance and Security
Drones patrolling the camps from the sky, magnetic gates with integrated thermographic cameras, X-ray machines and security cameras at the entry and exit points are just some tools that are planned for implementation.
There are also proposals to close camp gates at approximately 9pm to prevent people from leaving, according to the Ministry for Migration.
The European Commission’s Migration and Home Affairs, stated “The Greek authorities have ordered the construction of fences in four camps, and the technical specifications have been prior shared and consulted with the Commission and EASO in order to identify whether they meet EU reception standards.”
In late March, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson and the Minister of Migration Notis Mitarachi met on Lesvos and Samos to formalize the construction program of new facilities on the two islands and also on the islands of Chios, Kos and Leros. Total funding for the construction is over $337 million.
During the press conference, Johansson discussed the creation of open structures on the five islands but Mitarachi only spoke of enclosed structures.
At the time, the issue seemed to only concern the facilities on the islands. The construction currently underway will soon result in the first enclosed refugee reception facilities on the mainland.
A Trend of “Criminalizing Migration”
Petra Molnar, researcher at the Migration and Technology Monitor, made the following statement: “Greece’s decision to close the camps is in line with a global trend of criminalizing migration and turning to containment and detention in place of humane policies that respect people’s dignity and their internationally protected right to seek asylum.”
The new security systems were in line with “a dangerous global trend of bolstering the border industrial complex through invasive surveillance technologies and physical walls,” Molnar added.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is responsible for the specifications, design, bidding process and construction of the walls at the Diavata facility.
Since 2016, the IOM has been a service of the UN. Together with UNHCR, they are the main agencies charged with receiving refugee populations in Greece, where the IOM is responsible for running the HELIOS program for the integration of refugees. It also participates in the administration of the facilities on the mainland.
Kabourakis said the decision to build the wall at the facility “is not being done against the will of IOM,” which has been “informed.”
“There is daily cooperation with the IOM. There are many things that the IOM has done in Greece, which the government knows about, but which have not been carried out by the government,” Kabourakis said. “Within the framework of the EU project, the IOM support to the Greek authorities in the management of the camps includes also some construction activities.”
“The rationale for the walled perimeter is also to increase the security of the residents by discouraging unauthorized individuals from entering or occupying spaces reserved for asylum seekers, while still retaining open and free movement for its residents,” according to the IOM. “The vast majority of the open camps in Greece have always been fenced with walls/metal net or a combination of the two.”
“All construction interventions conducted within the framework of the EU project are decided and approved by the Greek authorities. The decision to proceed with the fencing of the camps on the mainland was taken by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum (MoMA) in the framework of establishing a controlled entry/exit system in the open reception facilities, based on access cards.”
According to the IOM, at the invitation of the Ministry, an IOM technical team submitted various options in accordance with international standards, for approval by the Ministry.
Once the plans were approved, on January 3 and February 12, the IOM announced a public tender “to invite competing offers from suppliers and contractors for the creation of perimeter fencing” for the facilities at Malakasa, Ritsona, Polykastro and Diavata.”
Construction has begun at all the sites and the contractors have been asked to finish the work within a month’s time.
The IOM stated that the rationale for the walled perimeter “is also to increase the security of the residents by discouraging unauthorized individuals from entering or occupying spaces reserved for asylum seekers, while still retaining open and free movement for its residents.”
The construction projects at the four mainland facilities are being carried out within the framework of the Site Management Support program, (SMS), which is financed by the European Commission.
According to the EC’s new bidding announcement on March 31, 2021 by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, the construction project will not be funded by the SMS program. Funding for the “Construction of perimeter fencing and installation of security systems at the mainland facilities” for 24 sites are “pending from national and EU sources,” it stated.