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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

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Rapid Intervention Border Teams deployed to Greece-Turkey border

(29 October 2010)

Following a request from Greece for support, the European Union is deploying armed guards to assist in halting unauthorized migration from across the border in Turkey. Greece has claimed it is unable to cope with the recent rise in migration in this region. It is the first time that the Rapid Intervention Border Teams (RABIT), formed in 2007 and organized by the Polish-based company Frontex, have been deployed to an external EU land-border. The agents will focus specifically around the Turkish town of Edirne, where the border between the two nations is believed to be largely unmonitored. It is still uncertain how many agents will be deployed.

Figures suggest that there has been a significant rise in migration through this corridor in recent months. Approximately eight out of ten migrants entering in to the EU region have come through Greece via Turkey, with nine out of ten apprehensions of these undocumented persons occurring in Greece according to the UN, rising from approximately 50 percent in 2008. Efforts to close existing routes of migration in to Italy, Spain and Malta across the Mediterranean Sea, as well as an agreement with Libya for the return of migrants, have resulted in further pressure upon Greece. Migrants are frequently arriving from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, typically intending to reach other countries within the EU after passing through Greece.

Under European Union law, those claiming asylum must do so in their first country of entry into the EU. According to the Dublin Regulation of 2003, member states also have the right to deport asylum seekers to the first country of entry, resulting in increasing pressure on those countries that form the external boundary of the EU. Most asylum applicants are therefore returned to Greece, adding to the already severely overcrowded detention centres there. A recent report by the UN special rapporteur on torture and cruel treatment, Manfred Nowak, found that Greece was carrying an “unfair burden” on behalf of the EU, and that the condition of its detention centres and prisons was unacceptable.

The RABIT agents will be armed, though it is stated they may only be used for self defence. The teams will consist of a multinational base of agents, and will operate as part of the Greek national border guard, though their uniforms will bear EU insignia. The agents will also have access to Greek databases. Frontex, the company tasked with coordinating security for the EU’s boundaries, has been accused of endangering migrants lives in the Mediterranean Sea and refusing basic humanitarian aid as required under international law.

Source: ‘Armed EU guards to patrol Greece-Turkey border’, Ian Traynor and Helena Smith, The Guardian, 25 October 2010; ‘EU Border Guards to Secure Greek Frontier’, The Spiegel, 26 October 2010; ‘EU to Deploy Armed Patrols at Greek-Turkish Border’, Valentina Pop, EU Observer, 25 October 2010; ‘UN Special Rapporteur on Torture presents preliminary findings on his Mission to Greece’, United Nations, 20 October 2010