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27-01-2010: Passages from the speech made by the Citizen Protection Minister at the Conference of the Greek Foreign Ministry and the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime on the topic of Illegal Immigration and Organized Crime Networks in the Mediterran Print E-mail


Athens , January 27 , 2010


«The last years, terrorism has radically changed its face. All European states without any exception are faced with a radically different Security environment compared to the past: Internationalization of transactions and opening of borders, technological development and growth of consumerism, regional conflicts and broader migration currents, demographic changes, climate change, and now even the global economic crisis .

Organized crime is the first and foremost risk for the international community, since it is not restricted by national borders; it is able to redeploy and readjust fast according to the political-economic changes and legislative measures, adapts easily to the challenges and opportunities presented by the environment where it grows, by extending its activities and protecting its actions, makes use of modern advanced methods and state-of-the-art technology, takes advantage of the disputes among states on the criminal, administrative and financial level .

Drugs, Human Trafficking, Arms, Smuggling, Electronic and Financial Crime, Environmental Crime, are only a few of the organized criminal groups’ main and usual activities all over the planet.

During the last decades, trafficking of illegal migrants has been added in this list of organized criminal activities. Routes of heroin and arms trafficking have now become also the ways via which illegal immigrants pass into Europe. And, of course, not for free.

Organized crime networks take advantage of political instability or poverty prevailing in states outside the European Union, in Asia and Africa, as well as of corruption, and make tremendous profits from slave-trade and trafficking of human souls. They profiteer at the expense of people who have the dream and struggle tooth and nail to reach Europe in pursuit for a better future.

In Greece, we experience this reality under our skin every single day. Why? Because we are on the borderline. We are guarding borders. We are guarding Europe’s external borders. Therefore, Greece is one of the greatest victims of the organized trafficking of illegal migrants. Hundreds of illegal immigrants of several nationalities enter the country every day through our land borders, especially through Albania and Turkey, as well as through the sea borders extending at a length of 18.400 kilometers, which make up a space easily accessible from many different directions.

The 30% of illegal immigrants entering Europe each year arrive first to Greece. In 2009, we arrested 126,000 illegal immigrants, i.e. almost 70% of the total number of arrests all over Europe. The number has doubled since 2005.

The main land routes used by illegal immigration flows are: the Greek-Albanian borders, the borders with Skopje, the Greek-Bulgarian borders, and the Greek-Turkish borders.

I want to point out another immigration flow that is of great concern for Greece. The problem of Greece being used as a transit country, while the final destination is some other European country. Many illegal migrants, with the assistance of gangs, are trying to enter the European Union through our country. They either attempt to reach Bari, Brindisi and Ancona in Italy from the ports of Patras, Igoumenitsa and Corinth, or they use our airports to fly to Western Europe, especially to Germany, Netherlands, Great Britain and Sweden, by intra – Schengen flights and using false documents.

Three months ago, Greece radically changed its policy on countering illegal immigration. On one hand, we have sealed all exits to Europe, making the country an unattractive transit center for traffickers.

In the past, there used to be a cunning way of thinking: Some people used to say: “Let them pass. Let them go to Europe, as long as they are not here”. This way of thinking is wrong. It has turned Greece into an attractive transit place for traffickers of human souls. Greece cannot and must not have the role of a transit country. Sealing off the exit borders means that traffickers have a higher cost and need more time to carry out their activity.

The first results of sealing the exit borders are already extremely positive. Returns from Italy and Germany, which had been tripled for a period of time, are now close to zero . So, everybody should take this into serious consideration. No one can depart from Greece.

Indeed, through funding provided by the European Union’s External Borders Agency, we have been supplied with all necessary equipment (thermal cameras, oscilloscopes etc) to be able to detect the secret compartments where illegal immigrants are hiding; this equipment is installed at the Ports of the country and the crossing-points at the land borders.

In parallel, under the auspices of the new Ministry of Citizen Protection, we have strengthened cooperation between the Hellenic Police and the Coast Guard, both on the strategic and operational level and, especially, in the field of intelligence exchange, in order to prevent entry and dismantle rings of traffickers and forgers.

First of all, we set up a joint strategic body consisting of the General Secretaries of Public Order and Maritime Security and the Heads of the Hellenic Police, the Hellenic Coast Guard and the National Intelligence Agency. We also established combined Police - Coast Guard operations teams. We have a perfect cooperation with FRONTEX, and we hope the decision is made soon to establish the Agency’s Regional Arm in Piraeus.

We are setting up a Special illegal immigrants traffickers Department in the new Agency for Combating Organized Crime of the Hellenic Police and, respectively, in the Coast Guard. We collect, process and, mainly, exchange information, fully and systematically utilizing the wealth of information available in the security and intelligence agencies, both in the Hellenic Coast Guard and the Police .

However, the national effort to combat organized trafficking of illegal immigrants will be wasted if states do not cooperate. Illegal immigration and organized criminal groups that facilitate it making huge fortunes out of it, constitute a major European and international problem, and it is exactly as such that we should handle it.

If states, including states of origin, do not exchange information about gangs and routes, if joint operations are not held, if political and diplomatic support is not provided to the states receiving the great volume of the migration wave, if international rules are not applied and agreements are not observed, then it will not be easy to neither repel this phenomenon, nor dismantle organized rings that traffic illegal migrants.

I shall give you a very simple example. How effective could the national action plan be, since our neighbors do not apply the Bilateral Readmission Protocol, do not open the port in Izmir and do not accept the vast majority of the readmission requests? Keep in mind that Turkey accepts back only 7% of its illegal migrants .

Moreover, what’s the point of talking about dismantling trafficking networks, when our neighbors are blind to illegal migrants and their traffickers crossing the borders to the islands of the Aegean, and have even been caught on camera facilitating them as well? Facts speak for themselves. 98% of the illegal immigrants arrested this year by the Coast Guard came from Turkey.

The European Union is also responsible, because it turns a blind eye if it considers that the European South is able to manage the global migration current into Europe on its own, both on the operational and political level.

The key-word is « cooperation ». Political cooperation, economic cooperation, operational cooperation, that will also lead to fair distribution of burdens.

We need advanced cooperation particularly in the information exchange policy, which will improve the effectiveness of the authorities. There is a whole volume of information available to the authorities of each state that have to be systematized. The mechanism of returns also has to be enhanced. Moreover, joint operations are required if we want to dismantle trafficking networks. And we need to understand that security systems in many states are defective . Most of all, we need to acquire a deep understanding of what we are called upon to combat. Our enemy is not the person trying to illegally enter some other country. If this is what we believe, we run the risk of making those people victims of a double crime: exploitation by organized gangs and arbitrariness of the state authorities.

Organized crime, no matter what form or activity it appears in, is a torpedo against the foundations of the society, the rule of law and Democracy. Respect for the rights of the citizen, the weakest or poorest citizen who is hit by lawlessness , is judged upon the effectiveness of civil security. Because it is about time to explain to citizens that soon we won’t be able to coexist in peace, since insecurity will be fostering hatred and fear, which, in turn, will be triggering tensions, frictions and conflicts within our society .

We have to cut off this chain of social decline now that we are still able. This is why we want to be judged upon the results. The start has been made, the Government is aware of the problem, has a plan, has a strategy and knows how to cooperate inside and outside the borders. »

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