ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece wants to install a floating barrier in the Aegean Sea to deter migrants arriving at its islands’ shores through Turkey, government officials said on Thursday.
Greece served as gateway to the European Union for more than one million Syrian refugees and other migrants in recent years. While an agreement with Turkey sharply reduced the number attempting the voyage since 2016, Greek islands still struggle with overcrowded camps operating far beyond their capacity.
The 2.7 kilometre long (1.68 miles) net-like barrier that Greece wants to buy will be set up in the sea off the island of Lesbos, where the overcrowded Moria camp operates.
It will rise 50 cm above sea level and carry light marks that will make it visible at night, a government document inviting vendors to submit offers said, adding that it was “aimed at containing the increasing inflows of migrants”.
“The invitation for floating barriers is in the right direction... We will see what the result, what its effect as a deterrent will be in practice,” Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told Skai Radio.
“It will be a natural barrier. If it works like the one in Evros, I believe it can be effective,” he said, referring to a cement and barbed-wire fence that Greece set up in 2012 along its northern border with Turkey to stop a rise in migrants crossing there.
Last year, 59,726 migrants and refugees reached Greece’s shores according to the UN agency UNHCR. Nearly 80% of them arrived on Chios, Samos and Lesbos.
A defence ministry official told Reuters the barrier will be installed at the north of Lesbos, where migrants usually attempt to cross over due to the short distance from Turkey.
If the floating fene is effective, more parts may be added and it could reach 13-15 kilometres, the official said.
“We need to test it to see if it can bring the results we want,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told ANT1 TV.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Peter Graff