For immigrants hoping to find a way into the European Union, Greece is the go to spot. The 126 mile border between Turkey, which is not a member of the EU, and Greece which is, has been deemed the “back door” into the EU. Frontex, the European Union’s Border policing Agency estimated that more than 55,000 people crossed over the border there, a 17% increase from 2011. It is thought that as many as 5% of the people in Greece are there illegally.
For most immigrants though, the journey really starts with making it into Istanbul; with some walking for months through Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran to arrive. Turkey is their goal, not just because of the border with Greece, but for Turkey’s liberal stance on visas. The requirements to receive a visa to enter Turkey legally are easy to meet. Citizens of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria and Iran, among others, do not even need a visa to enter Turkey. From there, most look for a smuggler to find them false papers or to help get them to the border.
The pressures Europe is feeling from the influx of immigrants from the Middle-East, Asia, and Africa has some suggesting a wall be built along the entire border, similar to the one between the US and Mexico. The city of Athens has taken it upon themselves to build a $7.3 million fence along the short border that runs between their city and Turkey, though many believe it won’t make much difference. Many immigrants simply cross through the Evros River Valley and swim across the river to enter Greece.
As a result, Greece’s refugee system has become increasingly backlogged. Compounding this problem was the long-standing EU rule that anyone claiming asylum must make their petition in the first EU country they entered. It wasn’t until January 2011, that the European Court of Human Rights ruled against this practice (MSS v. Greece and Belgium), finding that sending asylum seekers back to Greece to make their petitions would infringe on their fundamental human rights, since the Greek system was so overwhelmed, it was unlikely that petitions could be heard in a timely and fair manner. Now, countries will no longer be able to send immigrants and asylums seekers back to Greece, but will have to handle the cases themselves.
What do you think of the Court’s ruling; is it fair to require other countries to pick up the slack? Should Turkey make changes to their immigration policies to help their bid for the EU?