‘Inviolable’ Fortress Europe: Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey Move to Fortify Borders in Wake of Afghan Crisis

Written by | Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

A contingent of 400 Bulgarian soldiers equipped with specialized equipment for the protection of land and sea borders has set off for the frontiers with Turkey and Greece, according to the country’s Defence Minister Georgi Panayotov. In total, 700 soldiers are expected to support over 1,000 border police officers after some 14,000 migrants have been stopped at the Bulgarian border since the beginning of the year. This news came as also neighbouring Greece has warned against a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis, employing surveillance tech, and fortifying borders as chaos grips Kabul. Athens has decided to erect a metal wall with barbed wire and deploy drones and cameras — all of these could be the first sights that welcome some Afghan refugees fleeing to Europe, as they reach the Greek land border with Turkey.
Last week, as thousands of desperate Afghans descended on the airport in Kabul following the Taliban’s takeover, Greece announced it had finished the extension of a 40-km border wall on the frontier. Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis has pledged Greek borders would remain “inviolable”, adding, “We cannot wait passively for the possible impact.” Technologies being implemented along the border reportedly include 11 new cameras, as well as radars that can see up to 15km into Turkish territory. But some 2,000 kilometers further east, Greece’s neighbour, Turkey, is also reinforcing a border wall with Iran to prevent a feared increase of Afghan arrivals. To prevent potential crossings along its more than 534km long border with Iran, three-metre high concrete slabs have been installed, covering already more than a half of the planned 241-km wall.
“It is out of the question for us to take an additional refugee burden,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has recently stressed, with his eyes set on Europe that also worries about a wave of Afghan refugees following the Taliban’s takeover. Back in 2016, the EU reached an agreement with Turkey for it to host Syrians fleeing the war in their country in return for billions of Euros for refugee projects. Cavusoglu said Europe, as well as regional countries, would also be affected by a potential new wave of refugees from Afghanistan and that lessons should be learned from the Syrian refugee crisis. Turkey currently hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the world’s largest refugee population, in addition to about 300,000 Afghans.
In response to these developments, EU and national authorities are increasingly deploying high-tech surveillance systems at the bloc’s external borders, a trend that could accelerate as some countries seek to block refugees arriving from Afghanistan. After Bulgaria and Greece, also Frontex, the EU border agency, announced the trial of high-level surveillance equipment as the Afghan crisis escalated earlier this month. Governments’ use of AI technology in relation to migration has been on the rise, notably with the deployment of hard tracking technologies such as autonomous surveillance drones and thermal cameras beyond borders to spot people traveling across expanses of land and sea. But this also raises questions about the ethical implications of these technologies.“The increased use of surveillance technology at borders signals Europe’s willingness to forego the humanity at the heart of the disaster in Afghanistan,” says Petra Molnar, Associate Director of the Canada-based Refugee Law Lab think-tank. “By fortifying its borders, the EU is clearly signaling a turn away from the internationally protected norms of providing protection for people being persecuted, instead, building up more walls and relying on increased surveillance to fortify Fortress Europe.”

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