EU border guards arrest illegal immigrants at Greek-Turkish border

EU border guards arrest illegal immigrants at Greek-Turkish border

European Union border teams deployed to patrol Greece's north-eastern land border with Turkey have arrested their first wave of illegal immigrants, reports said Friday.

It is the first time that a team of the EU's rapid-intervention agency Frontex has deployed to an EU member state since the teams were created in 2007, DPA reported.

A team of more than 100 Frontex border guards started patrols along the narrow crossing between Nea Vyssa and Orestiada on Thursday.

Although the initial patrols were supposed to be reconnaissance exercises, the team of Frontex guards together with Greek border police managed to arrest 115 illegal immigrants within just a few hours, the Greek daily Kathimerini newspaper reported.

Frontex had agreed to send the team of 175 officials last month after Greece turned to the EU agency for help because of the increasing number of refugees - mainly from Africa and Afghanistan - attempting to cross the border to find their way into the EU.

According to the United Nations, between 300 and 400 migrants enter Greece each day, which has led to a national crisis within the Greek detention system - chiefly migration detention facilities, police and border guard stations and prisons.

The Frontex mission is expected to last for two months and efforts are expected to focus on policing a previously unguarded 12.5- kilometer river border between the towns of Nea Vyssa and Orestiada.

Kathimerini quoted police as saying that the presence of the EU's border agency in Greece demonstrated the union's support for Athens' efforts to curb illegal immigration.

"The presence of the European border guards in Greece also has a clear symbolism and is a type of indirect pressure on Turkey to honour its agreements and take back would-be migrants crossing illegally into Greece," the police official said.

During a visit to Athens last month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Turkey promised closer cooperation with Greece on fighting illegal immigration in exchange for Greek assistance in helping relax EU visa rules for Turks.

Greece has long accused Turkey of failing to make a real effort to stop the large wave of illegal immigrants entering Greece and ignoring an agreement to accept the return of detained migrants.

Illegal crossings on the land border have intensified after Frontex boosted surveillance along the sea borders. It recorded a six-fold increase there in the number of immigrants trying to enter Greece in the second quarter of this year.

More people are also trying to cross via the Turkish border because a previously used route from Libya to Italy was closed off last year through a controversial bilateral agreement, which allows Italian vessels to push back migrants' boats caught at sea.

On Thursday, the EU's top migration official began a two-day visit to Greece to support the country's struggle to secure its border with Turkey and improve reception facilities for asylum seekers.

Last week, the UN urged EU states to stop all transfers of asylum seekers back to Greece under the "Dublin II" regulation due to the extremely poor conditions they face in the country.

The EU's Dublin Regulation allows states to send asylum seekers back to the country where they first entered the EU to have their application processed.

Last month, Greece reportedly had a backlog of more than 52,000 asylum claims waiting to be processed.

Greece's Socialist government has pledged to crack down on illegal immigration, while at the same time promising to grant citizenship to all immigrant children born in the country.

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