PEPLO, Greece (AP) – As the world begins to travel again, Europe is sending immigrants a strong message: stay away!
Greek border police are firing deafening noises from an armored truck on the border into Turkey. Mounted on the vehicle, the long-range acoustic device or “sound cannon” is the size of a small TV, but can match the volume of a jet engine.
It is part of a wide range of new physical and experimental digital barriers that are being installed and tested during the quiet months of the coronavirus pandemic on the 200-kilometer (125-mile) Greek border with Turkey to prevent people enter the European Union illegally.
A new steel wall, similar to the recent construction on the US-Mexico border, blocks the commonly used crossing points along the Evros River that separates the two countries.
Nearby observation towers are equipped with long-range cameras, night vision and multiple sensors. The data will be sent to control centers to mark suspicious movements using artificial intelligence analysis.
“We will have a clear‘ pre-border ’picture of what is happening,” police chief Dimonsthenis Kamargios, head of the region’s border guard authority, told the Associated Press.
The EU has invested 3 billion euros ($ 3.7 billion) in security technology research following the 2015-16 refugee crisis, when more than a million people – many fleeing the Syrian wars, the Iraq and Afghanistan – fled to Greece and other EU countries.
The automated surveillance network being built on the Greek-Turkish border aims to detect migrants early and deter them from passing, with river and land patrols using light bulbs and long-range acoustic devices.
Key elements of the network will be launched later this year, Kamargios said. “Our task is to prevent migrants from entering the country illegally. To do that, we need modern equipment and tools. “
Researchers from universities across Europe, working with private companies, have developed futuristic surveillance and verification technology and tested more than a dozen projects on Greek borders.
AI-powered lie detectors and virtual robots from border guard interviews have been piloted, as well as efforts to integrate satellite data with images of drones on land, air, sea and underwater. Palm scanners record the only vein pattern in a person’s hand for use as a biometric identifier, and live camera reconstruction technology manufacturers promise to virtually erase the foliage, exposing people to they hide near border areas.
Tests have also been carried out in Hungary, Latvia and other places on the eastern perimeter of the EU.
European policymakers have advanced the most aggressive migration strategy in five years, funding agreements with Mediterranean countries outside the bloc to curb migrants and transforming the EU’s border protection agency, Frontex, into a mechanism for coordination to full-fledged multinational security. force.
But regional migration agreements have left the EU exposed to political pressure from neighbors.
Earlier this month, several thousand immigrants crossed from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in a single day, prompting Spain to deploy the army. A similar crisis developed on the Greco-Turkish border and lasted three weeks last year.
Greece is pressuring the EU to allow Frontex to patrol outside its territorial waters to prevent migrants from reaching Lesbos and other Greek islands, the most common route in Europe for illegal crossings in recent years.
Armed with new technological tools, European police authorities are leaning further beyond borders.
Not all surveillance programs being tested will be included in the new detection system, but human rights groups say emerging technology will make it even more difficult to secure refugees fleeing wars and extreme hardship.
Patrick Breyer, a European legislator from Germany, has brought before the courts an EU investigating authority that has demanded that the details of the AI-driven lie detection program be made public.
“What we are seeing at the borders and when dealing with foreign citizens in general is that it is often a testing ground for technologies that will then also be used in Europeans. And that’s why everyone should care about their own self-interest, ”Breyer of the German Pirates Party told the AP.
He urged the authorities to allow broad oversight of border surveillance methods to review ethical issues and prevent the sale of technology through private partners to authoritarian regimes outside the EU.
Ella Jakubowska, of the digital rights group EDRi, argued that EU officials were adopting “techno-solutionism” to set aside moral considerations when dealing with the complex issue of migration.
“It is deeply worrying that, time and time again, EU funds are being dumped into expensive technologies that are used in a way that criminalises, experiments and dehumanises people who move,” he said.
The London-based international private group argued that tougher border policing would provide a political reward for European leaders who have adopted a hard line on migration.
“If migrants are only seen as a security issue that needs to be deterred and challenged, the inevitable result is that governments will control the technology,” said Edin Omanovic, the group’s defense director.
“It is not difficult to see why: throughout Europe we have autocrats seeking power by addressing foreigners, otherwise the progressive leaders who have not reached any alternative to copy their agendas and a rampant arms industry with a wide access to decision makers. ”
Migratory flows have declined in many parts of Europe during the pandemic, interrupting an increase over the years. In Greece, for example, the number of arrivals fell from almost 75,000 in 2019 to 15,700 in 2020, a decrease of 78%.
But the pressure is sure to return. Between 2000 and 2020, the world’s migrant population increased by more than 80% to 272 million, according to United Nations data, rapidly outpacing international population growth.
In the Greek border town of Poros, the debate over a breakfast in a cafe was about the recent crisis on the Spanish-Moroccan border.
Many of the houses in the area are abandoned and are in a state of gradual collapse, and life is adapting to this reality.
The cows use the steel wall as a barrier to the wind and rest nearby.
Panagiotis Kyrgiannis, a resident of Poros, says the wall and other preventive measures have stopped migrant crossings.
“We’re used to seeing them cross paths and come through the village in groups of 80 or 100,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. … They don’t want to settle here. Everything that happens around us is not about us. “
Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.
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