Special Report: Greek Police and Border Patrol Agents Dedicated to Protecting Human Rights of Migrants
MsAikateriniKioulbaxioti(bottom left), Dr George Efthimiou (middle left), HatefMokhtar, Editor in Chief of The Oslo Times, Brigadier General Alexander Soukoulis, Director of the Border Protection Division (top right), Major ApostolosMaspero, Ministry of Citizen’s Protection (bottom right)
On Tuesday, in an exclusive and detailed one-hour interview conducted by The Oslo Times International News Network team in Athens, led by Editor-in-Chief HatefMokhtar, the Brigadier General Alexander Soukoulis, Director of the Border Protection Divisionand Major ApostolosMaspero, in the Ministry of Citizen’s Protection in Athens, Greece, aimed to clarify the intentions and the efficiency of the Greek police in their effort to control the entry of illegal migrants in Greece.
Both police officials were very kind and welcomed us warmly in their department. The main body of their work is focused on organizing and overseeing the protection of the Greek border, preventing illegal migrants from entering the country and fighting cross-border crime, such as illicit drugs, weapons or human trafficking. Mr.Mokhtar thanked them for their hospitality and ensured them that this would be a thorough and responsible interview on this highly significant and sensitive matter, in line with the high standards of The Oslo Times.
Migration has been a serious problem in Greece the last twenty years, resulting primarily from instability in the Balkans after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, as well as followed by Middle Eastern tensions, and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Libya and Syria. Poverty in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and India or sub-Saharan areas has driven more migrants to Greece, known by many as the “Gateway to Europe”. MrSoukoulis mentioned that the Greek Police understands the deep roots of these problems and is doing its best to face them.
MrSoukoulis and MrMaspero were confident that the Greek Police, in collaboration with the Greek Coast Guard, are doing a good and effective job in order performing their duties, namely protecting the Greek border. Of course, MrSoukoulis quoted the old Greek proverb: ‘Better is the enemy of the best’, meaning that there is always more capacity for improvement. However, he and his colleague are sure that they are on the correct path, as the arrests of illegal migrants by Greek Police and Coast Guard were reduced from 2012 to 2013 by nearly 50% (Figure 1). Arrests of traffickers slightly increased during the same period (Figure 2).Lastly, more migrants were arrested at the sea border in 2013 than in 2012.
Figure 1.Migrants arrested by Greek police & coast guard authorities for illegal entry and residence. 2013 (blue): 39,759; 2012 (grey): 73,976. All statistical information presented in this report taken from www.hellenicpolice.gr, the official website of Greek Police. The figures were not available in English. In all cases in this report, 11-month periods were studied for each year instead of 12-month ones.
Figure 2. Arrested migrant traffickers in 2013 (blue): 772 and 2012 (grey): 670 by Greek police and coast guard
Figure 3. Illegal migrants arrested at the Greek – Turkish sea (blue) and land (brown) borders. 2012: 30,351 migrants (land), 2,960 (sea); 2013: 942 (land), 10,481 (sea).
The Greek Police has multiple competences that concern general national safety, as well as the observation of laws and order, the protection of Greek borders, and the management of criminal and terrorist activities. The work of police extends to social, political, economic, environmental and operational levels via its specialized services. An example of its efficient operation is the dissuasion of many attempted suicides that the Prosecution of Electronic Crime has managed to prevent in the last few years, especially when considering the higher suicide rate in the years since the financial crisis began to affect the entire Greek society. However, Greek authorities are trying to provide effective strategies that correspond to the modern social needs by taking into account both the Greek and the international reality.
The geopolitical location of Greece and the military conflicts that have marked the last years, (the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the current conditions in Syria, Libya and Egyptetc), in combination with the economic crisis that have afflicted the European and global economies have indeed caused stain on the Greek Police. For this reason, the Greek Police must continuously draw upon the essential practices of action by educating its personnel and by taking into consideration the continuous social and economic changes taking place at almost breakneck speed.
For those reasons,the Greek Police, apart from the material and technical infrastructure, maintainsa high level human resources that includesscientists, physicians of various specializations, biologists, chemists, auditors, administration assistants and of course police officers, civilians, Border Guards and Special Police Guards. In particular,Special Greek Police Guards are primarily assigned with the task of guarding vulnerable targets and carrying out patrols, while the Border Guards’ mission is to combat illegal migration.
Human traffickingfor year 2011 in Greece is exemplified through the sexual exploitation of women, labor exploitation of individuals and the trafficking of children. The victims of trafficking are mainly from countries or regions with low living standards, or where people live under poverty-stricken conditionsand are looking for a better life.
Mr. Mokhtar pointed out that criminal syndicates engaging in human trafficking are able to do so by duping their victims into thinking they will receive a better life in a different country. In his experience, the most effective way to combat this tendency is through the free and easy access to accurate information.
MrSoukoulis agreed with that comment by saying that improving access to accurate information in the countries of origin is the key for the protection of human rights and shows the level of humanism that we need to function as a proper society at the European and global levels. He went on to say that, “In order to achieve this aim we should all believe in the protection of human rights and to rescue of more lives”.He also ensured us that the illegal immigrantswho make it to Greece receive the best treatment and attention possible,with the Greek Police abiding strictly by the Greek, European and international legislative.
The statistical data in Figure 4 report that the highest rates of illegal migration emanate from the countries of Albania, (6,305 migrants), Pakistan, (4,513 migrants) and Bangladesh (1,317 migrants).
The transport of migrants occurs via motor vehicles or through the harbors from the region of Evros, near the Greek border with Turkey, while a well organized crime network supplies falsified documents and tickets after the migrants pay a large fee. According to the Greek Police, in 2010 alone, 443 arrests for transporting migrants were made at or near Greek borders.
Figure 4.Deported illegal migrants per nationality(2013).Albania, (6,305 migrants; blue), Pakistan, (4,513 migrants; dark red) and Bangladesh (1,317 migrants, dark green). The remaining percentage of illegal migrants derived from a variety of countries.
According to the police’s “ Report for Organized Crime”, a great number of various crime networks are coming from not only Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, but also from Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece. The question that our team posed, was if the Greek Police has created an active network of collaboration in order to prevent this phenomena. MrSoukoulis, informed us that the collaboration between Greek authorities and the authorities of foreign countries has improved considerably. At the same time, he underlined the collaboration of Greek Police with European and global organizations
Particularly, the Greek Police is collaborating with the police authorities of other countries concerning migrant transit (Turkey, Afghanistan, etc.), as well as with international organizations such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), The Greek National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), the Red Cross and Frontex. MrMokhtar visited the IOM office in Athens three weeks ago and had a long,fruitful discussion with its president Mr.DaniilEsdras, about IOM’s activities on migrant management, the organized voluntary return to their home countries and the re-integration into their societies of origin.
The cooperation of the Greek and Turkish police authorities concerning the matter of migration via their land border is very important and it is crucial that it is maintained at the highest level. MrSoukoulis said that cooperation is indefinite and that it is a dynamic procedure, which has its ups and downs. For instance, although the collaboration between the two countries is satisfactory overall, the re-admission of migrants from Turkey (or via Turkey) has had very poor results so far, with long delays. MrMaspero added that that information exchange patterns between Greek and Turkish intelligence on this matter are very poor and that there is always room for improvement. Both officials were hopeful that the collaboration between the two countries would improve, since Turkey, as a continuing candidate for admission to the family of EU countries, has to fulfill its commitments dictated by the EU about the matter of migration control.
The two police officials were also asked about the cases of migrant deaths during their dangerous passage on old small boats from Turkey to Greece via the Aegean Sea. In May 2014, 22 migrants lost their lives in a tragic accident when their boat sunk in the eastern Aegean. MrSoukoulis replied that although this matter is mainly handled by the Greek Coast Guard, he is sure that the members of the Greek Coast Guard are doing their best every day and under difficult conditions to prevent such incidents. In addition, the Greek Navy has assisted the Greek Coast Guard on many occasions in their efforts to locate and escort such boats to a safe land nearby.
The two officials were also asked about the cases of police abuse of migrants. They replied that these cases are not very frequent and they are often exaggerated by the media. MrSoukoulis said that the media in Greece rarely mentions the fact that the Greek Police and Coast Guard are often saving migrants from the dangerous perils of their passage routes and from exploitation by trafficking networks.
From this interesting conversation we had the chance to ask the Greek Police representatives about the corruption phenomenon: According to the last report by the“European Union for the Fight Against Corruption” and from Europol’s own observations, the economic crisisin Greece and the resulting salary reductions to public sector employees, hasled to an increasein corruption and the illegal activities among civil servants. When asked about incidents of corruption in the Greek Police, MrSoukoulis answered that, again, these incidents are not that frequent. He also added that corruption of police officers or other civil servants is not only a Greek but an international phenomenon. According to him, the low salary of Greek policemen is one of the causes for these phenomena, yet not the only one since corruption is something that depends on each individual’s code of ethics.Lastly, he added that the Greek Ministry of Internal Affairs has a dedicated department that is focused on investigating, identifying and dealing with cases of civil servant corruption, and bringing the offenders to justice.
Another question that the two officials were asked was whether they have any statistics about police casualties or injuries while their officers and border guards patrol the Greek border. MrSoukoulis replied that the fatality rate is fortunately very low lately. Only one border guard lost his life last year in the town of Florina in northwestern Greece, after gunfire exchange with criminals from Albania. However, injuries are much more frequent not only due to skirmishes with cross-border criminals but also because of difficult terrain (snakes, dangerous cliffs, etc.) or weather conditions. The police officers and border guards are highly trained and aware of their tough duty to defend the Greek border. MrSoukoulisaddedthat worldwide public opinion needs to be informed of the humane and dedicatedefforts of Greek board guards and policemen that are doing their best on a daily basis on one of the most dangerous borders in Europe. He thinks that the prevention of illegal migration is a responsibility of the Greek Police. However, their work needs to be combined with a campaign that will inform the migrants of the dangers that they will face during their attempt to reach Greece, hopefully preventing them from even beginning a long and perilous journey that will not lead to a perceived paradise.
Finally, MrSoukoulis mentioned that the Greek Police has produced a 60 page-long memorandum that will serve as an essential manual for training policemen and border guards. This manual will aid the police officers in working effectively through having strong rules for the protection of human rights. They have also trained 20 of their members in the subject of human rights, in order to obtain a team of highly-educated experts that will provide advice and solutions about issues of how to practice human rights in every migrant-related task. The Greek Coast Guard also participates in a similar program and the two authorities often have joint training sessions. The expectation of the Greek Police is to construct a highly trained network of human right experts stationed in different parts of Greece, especially along the northern and eastern land borders.
Overall, the meeting was very informative and fruitful, since a large number of issues were addressed and clarified. MrSoukoulis and MrMaspero kindly offered to remain in touch with The Oslo Times and keep our team in Athens updated about new programs or activities of the Greek Police that concern human rights and migrant control. They were also very satisfied by Tuesday’s meeting, mentioning that they are rarely given the opportunity to discuss their work in such detail and length with other media, and concluded the meeting by extending appreciation to our team’s highly professional and responsible approach toreporting these sensitive matters. In the end, this was a very important discussion that will enlighten international public opinion about the challenges faced by Greek police and border patrol agents who protect and serve not only Greek civil society, but guard the “Gateway to Europe” with distinction and honor.
This report was written by MsAikateriniKioulbaxioti and DrGeorge Efthimiou.
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