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EU deploys RABIT-s to Greek border

Civitas, 27 October 2010

A UN investigation into Greece’s detention facilities has highlighted severe failings, writes Natalie Hamill. Critics say this situation has arisen because the EU leaves Greece to shoulder the majority of the burden of EU immigration. The UN’s findings have prompted the deployment of the EU’s first ever Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT-s) to assist at Greece’s border with Turkey, but should the EU be doing more?

In the second quarter of this year, the number of immigrants entering the EU increased six-fold, compared with figures for the first quarter. 90% of immigrants entered the EU via Greece, crossing the Turkish-Greek border.  For the vast majority of immigrants (excluding those looking for seasonal work in Greece), Greece is simply the gateway to other destinations in the EU. However, the Dublin II Regulation (2008) established that all asylum cases must be processed in the ‘country of entry’, which gives Greece the colossal responsibility of processing nearly every immigrant entering the EU. As a consequence of this, Greece has a backlog of 52,000 asylum cases waiting to be examined, and the number is growing every day.

The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Manfred Nowak, found there was a ‘national crisis within the Greek detention system’. He condemned the ‘appalling’ conditions, noting the overcrowded detention centres, inadequate sanitation facilities and the frequent inability to separate detainees appropriately, be-it by gender or age. The guards he interviewed acknowledged the centres are ill-equipped for such numbers, and recognised their own lack of training to deal with so many immigrants, but it seems they have no other option. In a time of economic crisis and large scale social misery from severe austerity measures, Greece is keeping its head above water, but only just.

The pressure the Greek detention system is under has, however, been common knowledge in the EU for some time. Greece has frequently pleaded for more assistance and burden-sharing.  The publication of the UN’s latest public findings has forced the EU to act and launch its first deployment of RABIT-s (established since 2007), to try and stem the flow of immigrants entering the EU through Greece. Announcing the deployment, Cecilia Malmstroem, EU Commissioner for Internal Affairs, said: ‘Greece will now be able to benefit concretely from European solidarity in the management of external borders.’

The RABIT-s are drawn from ‘national reserves’, and will patrol the Turkish–Greek border assisting Greek border controls. EUObserver, the EU news website, commented that: ‘The Rabit-s have authorisation to access Greek databases and “when necessary, use force”. They are authorised to carry their service weapons and national uniform, but will wear a blue armband with the EU and Frontex logo’. However, the teams are only a temporary measure so what happens after they leave?

The number of migrants looking to enter the EU via Greece is, as one Greek minister pointed out ‘a European problem that demands a European solution’. In his report, Manfred Nowak suggests that: ‘The European Union should fundamentally rethink its asylum and migration policy, and replace the Dublin II Regulation by a fairer system of burden sharing.’

Immigration is rarely a popular topic, especially not in times of economic difficulty. But perhaps the EU should accept that EU integration has changed migration trends, and that current policy focusing on ‘country of entry’ places immense pressure on both border-states and the people detained.

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