Greece to deploy airship to monitor migrant movements by the sea

A crewless airship provided by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency will be installed by Greece in cooperation with the European Union (EU) above the island of Samos to monitor migrants traveling to Greek islands by sea, Nikolaos Stelya from Gazete Duvar reported on Thursday.

Greece’s Deputy Minister of Migration Policy Giorgos Koumoutsakos  told channel ANT1 that the airship will go in operation next week.

This will be the first time that an EU-member state has used a zeppelin for migration-related purposes. Greece had used one during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens for security reasons.

“In Samos, at some point, I think it’s a matter of days or a week, a Zeppelin balloon will be installed in cooperation with Frontex, which will take a picture of a huge area. What does that mean?

“First of all, you know what time the ship moves away from the traffickers, inform the Turkish side, you go near, that is a set of actions,” Koumoutsakos said.

The EU is allegedly planning to deploy the system in a broader region if the pilot zeppelin proves successful. The pilot project which is reportedly set to  start on Tuesday, aims to strengthen the protection of Europe’s external borders, combat irregular immigration and augment search and rescue operations in the eastern Aegean Sea.

“It will give a picture of movements between the Turkish coast to Samos for the more effective guarding of our maritime borders,” said Koumoutsakos .

He added the zeppelin would be monitored by the Frontext’s GNR radar unit located at the port of Karlovasi.

Koumoutsakos did not provide details on what exactly can the Greek port authorities do when they approach the boats of the refugees and migrants.

“There is no push backs. Everything will be done in accordance with international law. Greece will do nothing beyond the international law,” Koumoutsakos emphasized in his speech.

Human rights activists slammed the move defining it as part of populist movements rising all over Europe, which allegedly trade on people’s economic and social insecurity to promote right-wing politics.

Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) accused the Greek and Turkish coastguards of blocking the passage of some migrant vessels that had already reached  European waters, stopping and returning them to Turkey.

Last week the Aegean Boat Report, a Norwegian NGO lodged a complaint and also revealed video showing a Greek coast guard vessel approaching a boat with 34 migrants on board and leaving them in the open waters to be captured by the Turkish authorities.

The footage proves  both countries’ collaboration to return a group of migrants to Turkey.

In the video the occupants including 14 children  were seen desperately shouting at the Greek officials – “Not to Turkey!”

The NGO claimed that the Greek act was in contravention of international law which says that the passengers should be rescued, instead of being pushed back to Turkey.

The Greek coast guard said it would first need to evaluate the video. Greece newly-elected government, led by conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced changes to its migration policies   shortly after  coming to power in early July.

The changes included the acceleration of asylum exams and returns to Turkey, in compliance with a deal between Ankara and Brussels.

Ankara and the EU concluded to try  to reduce the number of migrants crossing through Turkey on March 18, 2016. The deal saw a sharp decrease in the number of  migrants crossing through Turkey.

Turkey signed the deal in exchange for €3 billion from the EU aid and a promise to ease visa restrictions for Turks and to tighten controls on migrants trying to reach Europe.

Critics claim that the deal has failed and caused refugees to  be stuck in limbo in Greek islands.

Samos island is one of the most preferred points of arrival for migrants, along with the other Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Leros and Kos, where a total of 19,000 migrants have been living in overcrowded camps as of Monday.

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