NEWS

The scourge of the border regions

Since the late 1980s, Greece has had to face a completely new set of circumstances in terms of tackling crime and illegal immigration. The new element was cross-border crime, which until then had been minimal. It used only to occur along the land border with Turkey at Evros; the long sea borders of Greece usually formed an effective defense against any expansion of criminal activity. Overnight Greece’s borders with other countries used to be so strictly policed on the other side that there was little need for police to guard the Greek side. This changed virtually overnight, and Greece was taken by surprise at the way circumstances developed in the early 1990s. Hundreds of kilometers of border had no police supervision; and they were in remote, inaccessible areas where guarding them demanded special preparation, equipment and personnel. The increase in criminal activity imported from the north primarily involved organized crime: drug trafficking, smuggling of migrants and people for the sex trade, gunrunning and the contraband cigarette trade. The upsurge in these types of crime resulted largely from the structural vacuum created in neighboring countries by rapid sociopolitical developments. Cooperation not possible Organized crime was quick to take advantage of the new circumstances, as the police soon realized that it would be difficult to establish close cooperation with their counterparts in bordering countries. Until the late 1980s, the border post Kipoi Evros was the main point of entry to Greece for narcotics. That changed in 1990, when drugs started entering by a different route, going from Turkey to Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM), Kosovo, and Albania to Greece. The largest quantity of cannabis comes to Greece across the border at Kastoria. Drug smugglers are also active on the west coast, and in 1997-2000 there were 38 armed clashes between coast guard patrol boats and Albanian gangs using high-speed craft to smuggle drugs. Illegal immigration Migrant smugglers use the remote, mountainous borders in the north of Greece. African immigrants come to Greece across the Bulgarian border, and there are increasing numbers of migrants from Asia, who used to come to Greece via the Evros or by sea (which they still do). Mass illegal immigration to Greece was the first consequence of the great changes that took place in the Balkans. This phenomenon expanded significantly in 1991, with hundreds of thousands of migrants, chiefly Albanians, crossing the border. In recent years, improved policing of the border and the creation of appropriate legislation (Greece had no reception facilities for migrants), the number of Albanian immigrants decreased. Special legislation was needed to deal with the smuggling of people – mainly women and children – for the sex trade, which has grown alarmingly in the past five years. Since the late 1990s an increasing number of women have been brought to Greece by ruthless human traffickers, who force them into prostitution. Greece is one of the main countries through which these women pass before being sent on to other countries. Greece also exports crime to other countries. Drug users from northern Greece cross the border to get drugs and use them in neighboring countries. Large amounts of tea, coffee, cigarettes and freon – a refrigerating gas banned in the European Union – are taken to Balkan countries via Greece. 4,500 border guards A series of preventive and suppressive measures have been implemented to tackle these problems. A force of 4,500 border guards assisted by special guards has been appointed. These specially trained forces are well equipped with cars, weapons, telecommunications, and technology for recognizing false documents. Greece has also signed, or is in the process of signing, cooperation agreements with police forces in all the countries on its borders, so as to deal jointly with growing crime. And it is pursuing the same objective through international organizations and regional police cooperation initiatives.