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29 May, 2010 05:28

Refugees face deadly gauntlet sneaking past EU border security agency

The EU's struggle to stop the flow of illegal immigrants means the almost constant expansion of the border guard agency Frontex, despite criticism it regularly crosses human rights borders while defending national ones.

“You are in Greek territorial waters. What is your destination? You are supposed to have the Greek flag on your mast,” announce Frontex border guards, sounding through the night.

They are on the hunt and their target is any migrant, refugee, or asylum seeker trying to make their way illegally to a new life through the Hellenic waters.

Most come from war-torn countries like Somalia or Afghanistan, but very few make it across alive.

Frontex – the EU’s Border Force – and the Greek coastguard patrol these waters every night

The hours of darkness are the only time when Turkish sailors dare make the dangerous trip in a boat with up to 60 people trying desperately to reach islands like Samos.

“Samos is very close to Turkey. This is why we deal with so many illegal immigrants. At its closest point in the Samos Strait, Greece and Turkey have just 0.6 nautical miles between them,” says Partsafas K. Stillianos, head of the Samos port authority.

Crew 604 took RT on patrol to the sea and a German Frontex team was in the air above.

“There is a helicopter right now in this area patrolling. They help us a lot because they have good equipment, like a thermal camera. With it you can very easily find a target – immigrants,” explains Commander Stelios from the Hellenic coastguard.

The crew tracks the Samos Strait with very precise radar, making it almost impossible for any illegal immigrants to get away. When a boat is caught, the patrol almost always turns into a search and rescue mission.

“They are in rubber boats and most of the time they destroy the rubber boats, so we have to collect them and rescue them,” Commander Stelios says.

However, critics say it is the other way round – Frontex and partners actually push the immigrants back to Turkish waters, damage the boats, and leave them to drown.

“Frontex is a war machine. They have ships, airplanes, helicopters. They shoot. They use war tactics against refugees,” claims Nasim Mohammadi, from a support office for immigrants and refugees.

Those who do make it across find themselves in the Samos Detention Center.

“They are homeless, Greece is putting them in jails and detention centers that you can find on every island, in every city – many-many detention centers, and they are very bad – they are jails!” Nasim Mohammadi says.

In recent years Frontex has expanded operations and fewer people are making it to the EU illegally. Yet thousands still attempt to try escape to find another life, knowing the risk and the chances they will be caught or killed.