Greece defends use of 'sound cannon' to deter migrants

EU dismisses hardware as 'a strange way of protecting borders'

Greek police officer Dimitris Bistinas operates a long-range acoustic device near the Turkish border. AP  
Greek police officer Dimitris Bistinas operates a long-range acoustic device near the Turkish border. AP  

Greece has defended its use of a deafening "sound cannon" to deter migrants from crossing the border with Turkey.

After talks with Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi on Wednesday, European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said the cannon was “a strange way of protecting your borders”.

But Mr Mitarachi said Greece was willing to use technology in any way that did not violate international law.

Greece would do this “in any way that can protect the borders of the European Union without putting any people at risk”, he said.

“Both the Hellenic Police and the Hellenic Coastguard have an excellent track record in protecting human lives at the borders and the Aegean.”

Mr Mitarachi said he could not give exact information that might lead to operational details falling into the hands of smugglers.

But two cannons were believed to be at a border post with Turkey, a frequent crossing point into Greece.

Athens bought the truck-mounted hardware last year and it is thought to emit a sound louder than a jet engine.

Ms Johansson said the acoustic devices were not funded or supported by the European Commission.

“I do hope that this is in line with fundamental rights but this, of course, has to be clarified,” she said.

Belgian Migration Minister Sammy Mahdi said controlling migration “can and must be done in a humane manner”.

“I am absolutely in favour of guarding European borders but still more so in favour of European values,” he said.

The Mavrovouni refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece. Reuters
The Mavrovouni refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece. Reuters

At the meeting, Mr Mitarachi pledged to improve conditions for migrants in Greek camps over the winter.

Three new sites are close to being opened on the islands of Samos, Kos and Leros, while two are in earlier stages of development on Lesbos and Chios.

Asked why the project was taking so long, Mr Mitarachi said contingency plans were in place to prevent dire conditions if the camps were not ready.

He said it had taken time to get the necessary licenses and environmental permits and finalise a grant for EU funds.

Some migrants previously sheltered in flooded, muddy tents at the Mavrovouni camp, which were set up after the overcrowded Moria camp was gutted by fire.

Moria housed 12,500 people and was locked down due to a Covid-19 outbreak. Some people were moved to the mainland or a temporary camp.

Activists had long warned of miserable conditions at the site, which was built to house 2,750 people.

"We have contingency planning to ensure that we will never see again these pictures we’ve seen in the temporary camp in Mavrovouni," Mr Mitarachi said.

Ms Johansson said the migrant situation had “improved a lot” in recent years, with numbers living on Greek islands down from 42,000 to fewer than 10,000.

She said the Greek minister had promised to ensure migrants would have proper accommodation in the winter.

Athens is under pressure after moving to limit asylum applications by declaring Turkey a safe country for refugees from countries such as Syria and Afghanistan.

Greek migration authorities said these people were not in danger because of their religion or political opinions and could seek asylum in Turkey.

Turkey has in the past 15 months refused to admit more than 1,400 refugees whom Greek authorities want to send back.

Eva Cosse of Human Rights Watch said the move by Greece was a “cruel policy” designed to limit asylum claims.

The likely result was “people rendered inadmissible who will end up in prolonged detention or in limbo within Greece’s failed reception and asylum system”, she said.

Updated: June 9, 2021 08:54 PM


Sign up to:

* Please select one

Most Read