Trump orders voting districts to exclude people in U.S. illegally

By Alexandra Alper and Nick Brown

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed a memorandum on Tuesday that would prevent migrants who are in the United States illegally from being counted when U.S. congressional voting districts are redrawn in the next round of redistricting.

U.S. Census experts and lawyers say the action is legally dubious. In theory, it would benefit Trump’s Republican Party by eliminating the largely non-white population of migrants in the U.S. illegally, creating voting districts that skew more Caucasian.

“Including these illegal aliens in the population of the State for the purpose of apportionment could result in the allocation of two or three more congressional seats than would otherwise be allocated,” the memo said.

Responses from Democrats and immigration advocates were swift and condemnatory.

Dale Ho, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, vowed litigation.

“We’ll see (Trump) in court, and win,” he said in a statement.

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, derided what he viewed as an “unconstitutional order that has no purpose other than to silence and dis-empower Latino voices and communities of color.”

Proponents of citizens-only voting districts argue each vote should carry the same weight. If one district has far fewer eligible voters than another, they say, each vote there has more influence on election outcomes.

But the move carries major legal questions.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has left the door open for citizen-based voting maps for state legislatures, experts see it as a long-shot at the federal level, because the U.S. Constitution explicitly says that congressional districts must be based on “the whole number of persons” in each district.

In the memo, Trump said the word “persons” “has never been understood to include … every individual physically present within a state’s boundaries.”

Census experts say that is wrong: multiple federal laws have reinforced that apportionment must include everyone, and U.S. Supreme Court precedent has endorsed that view, said Joshua Geltzer, a constitutional law expert and professor at Georgetown Law.

“All of this makes Trump’s position outrageous,” Geltzer said.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper in Washington and Nick Brown in New York; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington, Mica Rosenberg in New York and Mimi Dwyer and Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Matthew Lewis)

First coronavirus case found in sprawling migrant camp at U.S. border

By Julia Love

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – An asylum seeker has tested positive for coronavirus in a sprawling encampment steps from the U.S. border in Matamoros, Mexico, underscoring the challenges migrants face in protecting themselves from the pandemic.

After showing symptoms of the virus last Thursday, the migrant and three family members were placed in isolation and tested, Global Response Management (GRM), a nonprofit providing medical services in the camp, said in a statement.

When results came back Monday, the migrant who had displayed symptoms tested positive and the relatives had negative results.

Two others with symptoms of the virus are also in isolation, GRM said.

Since cases of coronavirus in Mexico began to rise in March, advocates and government officials have been intensely worried about the potential for an outbreak in the camp, where an estimated 2,000 migrants live in tents on the banks of the Rio Grande river.

“The presence of COVID-19 in an already vulnerable population exposed to the elements could potentially be catastrophic,” GRM said in a statement.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many migrants living in the camp are U.S. asylum seekers who were sent back to Mexico to await the outcome of their cases under a controversial Trump administration policy known as “Migrant Protection Protocols.”

To prepare for the virus, GRM sought to improve sanitation in the camp by setting up 88 “handwashing stations,” distributed multivitamins to boost migrants’ immune systems and built a 20-bed field hospital.

Luz, a 42-year-old asylum seeker from Peru who asked that her last name not be used due to safety concerns, said she has tried to isolate as much as possible, though she sometimes ventures out of her tent to seek some relief from the fierce Matamoros heat.

“I truly am not afraid, though I try to be cautious,” she said. “But you can’t stay in your tent all the time… It’s too hot.”

(Reporting by Julia Love; Additional reporting for Ted Hesson and Kristina Cooke; Editing by Chris Reese)

Don’t let impact of coronavirus breed hate, urges EU human rights agency

Reuters
By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The global outbreak of coronavirus will impinge on people’s freedom and other human rights but steps must be taken to stop “unacceptable behaviour” including discrimination and racial attacks, said the head of a European human rights watchdog.

Michael O’Flaherty, director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, said he was shocked when a waiter told him the best way to tackle coronavirus would be to stop migrants coming into his country because they have poor hygiene.

He noted other media reports of people being beaten up in the street for looking Chinese and others stopped at airports based on similar prejudices around ethnicity.

“That’s the sort of really worrying fake news-based spreading of hate and distrust which further undermines the ability to be welcoming, inclusive, respectful societies,” the Irish human rights lawyer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The U.N.’s children’s agency UNICEF on Wednesday also said that fear of the virus was contributing to “unacceptable” discrimination against vulnerable people, including refugees and migrants, and it would “push pack against stigmatisation”.

O’Flaherty said it was necessary for public health responses to limit human rights to stem the coronavirus spread, but warned governments should not “use a sledgehammer to break a nut”.

“It’s about doing just enough to achieve your purpose and not an exaggerated response,” he added.

His Vienna-based agency, which advises EU and national decision makers on human rights issues, is working with teams of researchers across the European Union to prepare a report this month on ways to protect rights in a time of global turmoil.

“I am not saying everything that’s being done there is wrong … but there is an impact: a reduction in the enjoyment of human rights,” he said.

The World Health Organization described the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic on Wednesday, with its chief urging the global community to redouble efforts to contain the outbreak.

As well as curtailing people’s freedom of movement, O’Flaherty said there was bound to be a ripple effect from the virus that has so far infected more than 119,000 people and killed nearly 4,300, according to a Reuters tally.

This would range from poor children being deprived of their main daily meal as schools closed, to gig economy workers being laid off with little access to social welfare, he noted.

In response, some governments – from Britain to Ireland and Spain – have introduced measures to boost social security payments or help small businesses stay afloat.

Governments may also need to tackle price inflation and profiteering from in-demand medicines and equipment like face masks, as well as ensure equal access to any treatments or vaccines that may be developed in future, he added.

Extra care was required to protect marginalised social groups from the virus, such as the homeless and refugees living in crowded conditions without decent shelter or healthcare.

O’Flaherty urged states to cooperate and learn from each other’s experiences while urging the private sector to do its bit, for example, by clamping down on hate speech and fake news on social media or attempts to market false cures.

If dealt with in the right way, the coronavirus epidemic could help Europeans understand the importance of safeguarding human rights for everyone, especially in tough times, he said.

“My feeling is that if we engage this crisis smartly, it can be an opportunity to help promote the sense, across our societies, that human rights is about all of us,” he said

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

Greece blocks 35,000 migrants, plans to deport arrivals after March 1

By Lefteris Papadimas and Bulent Usta

KASTANIES, Greece/EDIRNE, Turkey (Reuters) – Greece has repulsed nearly 35,000 migrants trying to cross onto its territory illegally since Turkey opened its border nearly a week ago, government sources said on Thursday, as it prepares to deport hundreds of others who made it through.

Thousands of migrants have made for Greece since Ankara said on Feb. 28 that it would let migrants cross its borders into Europe, reneging on a commitment to hold them on its territory under a 2016 deal with the European Union.

Ankara has accused Greek forces of shooting dead four migrants. A charge rejected by Athens, which says Turkish forces are helping the migrants to cross the border. Both sides used tear gas at the Kastanies border post on Wednesday.

Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, visited Edirne province bordering Greece on Thursday and announced the deployment of 1,000 special police to the area to halt the pushback of migrants toward its territory.

Soylu, who said on Wednesday that Turkey was preparing a case at the European Court of Human Rights over Greece’s treatment of migrants, accused Greek forces of wounding 164 people and pushing back nearly 5,000 into Turkey.

Greece on Thursday banned vessels from sailing around the Aegean islands of Chios, Lesbos and Samos. They are all close to the Turkish coast and a regular target for dinghies packed with migrants trying to enter the EU.

The ban exempts merchant ships and vessels of the EU’s border agency Frontex.

The Aegean Sea remained choppy on Thursday and there were no further sightings of dinghies carrying migrants.

Lesbos already hosts more than 20,000 asylum seekers, many of them living in filthy conditions in overcrowded camps.

The situation at the Kastanies border crossing was calm on Thursday. Migrants – many of whom are from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Syria and other Arab nations – huddled in tents and makeshift camps on the Turkish side of the border.

HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS

Greek border guards rebuffed nearly 7,000 attempts in the last 24 hours alone, taking the total since Feb. 29 to 34,778 and the number of arrests of those who got through to 244, the Greek government sources said.

Migrants who arrived in Greece illegally after March 1 will be transferred to the northern city of Serres and deported back to their own countries, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said late on Wednesday.

“Our aim is to return them to their countries,” he told the Athens News Agency.

Mitarachi said migrants who entered Greece prior to Jan. 1, 2019 and are living on its Aegean islands would be transferred to the mainland in the coming days.

Athens announced on March 1 that it would not accept any new asylum applications for a month following the build-up of migrants at the border. This has triggered criticism from human rights agencies.

“It’s very sad that we have seen again human beings treated as political weapons… This is unacceptable,” said Francesco Rocca, head of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), on a visit to the Greek-Turkish border where he struggled to hold back tears.

The U.N. migration agency, the IOM, also urged all countries to respect the migrants’ human rights.

“… international legal obligations must be upheld, in particular with respect to those who may be in need of international protection,” it said in a statement.

Greece and the EU accuse Turkey of deliberately goading the migrants to cross the border as a way of pressuring Brussels into offering more money or supporting Ankara’s geopolitical aims in the Syrian conflict.

Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and faces another influx amid increased fighting in northwest Syria, says it cannot take in any more and that the EU must do more.

President Tayyip Erdogan discussed the migrant issue with senior EU officials in Ankara on Wednesday but his spokesman said the Europeans had made “no concrete proposition” on how to resolve the crisis.

(Additional reporting by Athens and Istanbul bureaux and by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Gareth Jones)

EU pledges aid to Greece as migrants mass on border with Turkey

By Lefteris Papadimas and Alkis Konstantinidis

KASTANIES/LESBOS, Greece (Reuters) – European Union officials on Tuesday promised more cash for Greece during a visit to its border with Turkey which tens of thousands of migrants and refugees have been trying for days to breach.

The officials urged Turkey to abide by a 2016 deal which requires it to keep the migrants on its soil in return for EU aid. After an upsurge in fighting in Syria last week, Ankara says it will no longer stop migrants who want to reach Europe.

Greek riot police have used tear gas against the migrants at its Kastanies border post, while the coastguard has tried to stop boats transporting migrants to Greece’s Aegean islands. A Syrian boy died on Monday after his boat capsized in the area.

“The situation at our border is not only an issue for Greece to manage, it is the responsibility of Europe as a whole,” the head of the EU’s executive Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, told a news conference at Kastanies.

“We will hold the line and our unity will prevail,” she said after touring the area with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the heads of the European Council and Parliament.

Von der Leyen announced additional aid of 700 million euros to help Greece deal with the migrant crisis.

Migrants walk next to the Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece’s Kastanies, near Edirne, Turkey, March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Brussels is desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2015-16 crisis, when more than a million migrants entered the EU from Turkey via the Balkans, straining European security and welfare systems and boosting support for far-right parties.

Greek troops and riot police remained on high alert along the Turkish border on Tuesday, though there were no reports of significant new clashes with the migrants.

“There were only a few attempts today (to cross the border). Let’s hope they get the message,” a machine gun-toting army officer told Reuters at the Kastanies border post.

Army jeeps patrolled the area and roads leading to the Evros river which marks the Greek-Turkish border remained shut.

GREECE, TURKEY AT LOGGERHEADS

The crisis has badly strained ties, never good, between Ankara and Athens.

Mitsotakis accused Ankara of deliberately encouraging migrants to head to the border in order to “promote its geopolitical agenda and divert attention from the situation in Syria”.

He also said these migrants were not fleeing the latest flareup of fighting in Syria’s Idlib province but were people “who have been living safely in Turkey for a long period of time”. Many speak fluent Turkish, he added.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also accused Turkey on Tuesday of using the refugees to “blackmail” Europe.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan infuriated Mitsotakis on Monday by accusing Greek border guards of killing two migrants and wounding a third, a claim denied by Athens.

On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Greek forces were shooting migrants “in the back as they are running away”, but he provided no evidence.

Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million refugees from Syria’s civil war and faces another possible big influx as the fighting drags on there, says it cannot take in any more.

Human Rights Watch said it had received multiple reports that Greek border guards were pushing people back into Turkey, which could violate the right to claim asylum as well as a ban on returning people to where they would be unsafe, both of which are enshrined in international law.

The mood toward migrants on Greek islands such as Lesbos – once relatively welcoming – has soured since the 2015-16 crisis amid a sense that the Athens government and the EU are not providing sufficient support.

“It used to be the island of solidarity but it seems like the locals are exhausted,” said Charlie Meyers, a U.S. aid worker on Lesbos.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas in Kastanies, Alkis Konstantinidis on Lesbos, George Georgioupoulos and Foo Yun Chee in Athens: Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Geert de Clercq in Paris; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

U.S. appeals court blocks Trump policy forcing migrants to wait in Mexico

By Mica Rosenberg

(Reuters) – A U.S. federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday blocked a Trump administration policy that has forced tens of thousands of migrants to wait in Mexico for months for hearings in U.S. immigration courts.

A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their argument that the program violated U.S. immigration law and international treaty obligations on the treatment of asylum seekers.

The program, which began a year ago and is called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), is one of the most dramatic immigration policy changes enacted by the Trump administration.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made cracking down on immigration a central theme of his more than three years in the White House, has sought through a series of new policies and rule changes to reduce asylum claims filed mostly by Central Americans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment but the administration is likely to quickly appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court as it has done with other rulings.

Some 59,000 people have been sent back to Mexico under the program, which started in San Diego before being expanded to other ports of entry all across the U.S-Mexico border. [L2N25W1G1] It was not immediately clear what would happen to people already in the program.

Migrants, many of them children, have faced violence and homelessness as they wait for their court dates in dangerous border cities. At least 1,000 people returned under the program were violently attacked or threatened in Mexico, according to a Feb 28 Human Rights Watch report that documented kidnappings, rapes and assaults.

The Trump administration argued the program did not violate a principle in international law known as non-refoulement, which says asylum seekers should not be returned to places where they face danger. The administration has said migrants could tell officials at any point in the process they had a fear of returning to Mexico.

But the panel concluded that plaintiffs in the case, which included 11 individual asylum seekers and several immigration advocacy groups, “had shown a likelihood of success on their claim that the MPP does not comply with the United States’ treaty-based non-refoulement obligations.”

The Trump administration has said most asylum petitions are ultimately denied by immigration courts and releasing migrants into the United States to wait for hearings encourages people to disappear into the country. Officials say forcing migrants to wait in Mexico is a way to cut down on fraudulent asylum claims.

In a separate ruling on Friday, the 9th Circuit left in place a lower court’s block on a Trump administration regulation that barred migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry from seeking asylum.

A three-judge panel in that case found the regulation – issued in November 2018 and swiftly enjoined by a federal judge in the Northern District of California – conflicted with federal immigration statutes that govern asylum and amounted to “a categorical ban” on certain asylum seekers.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, Ted Hesson in Washington and Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

‘Europe is nicer’: migrants head west after Turkey opens border

By Bulent Usta and Ali Kucukgocmen

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants in Turkey started arriving on the borders with Greece and Bulgaria on Friday after a senior Turkish official said Ankara would no longer abide by a 2016 EU deal and stop refugees from reaching Europe.

Greece and Bulgaria, both European Union member states, said they were beefing up frontier controls to prevent the migrants crossing illegally. Bulgaria said it was sending 1,000 extra troops to its border with Turkey.

Reuters TV footage showed migrants walking near the Greek border, some carrying plastic bags and small children, while Greek police and border vehicles patrolled on the other side of the fence. Similar scenes unfolded at the Bulgarian border.

On the Aegean coast, Turkish broadcasters showed two dozen people, including women and children, aboard a rubber dinghy boat. They were reportedly bound for the Greek island of Lesbos.

“We heard about (Turkey’s decision) on the television,” said Afghan migrant Sahin Nebizade, 16, one of a group of migrants packed into one of three taxis that were parked on a highway on the outskirts of Istanbul.

“We’ve been living in Istanbul. We want to go to Edirne and then on to Greece,” he said before the taxis headed for the northwestern province of Edirne.

Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Moroccans were among the migrants heading towards the border crossings with Greece and Bulgaria, about 200 km (125 miles) west of Istanbul, Turkey’s pro-government Demiroren news agency said.

Hamid Muhammed, holding a young girl at the Greek border, told Reuters that Greek police were not letting him enter.

“There are many problems here (in Turkey). We want the Turkish and European governments to open this gate,” he said.

“THERE IS NO WORK HERE”

Turkey’s decision to make good on threats long issued by President Tayyip Erdogan to “open the gates” to Europe came after 33 Turkish troops were killed in an air strike by Syrian government forces in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region.

Some one million civilians have been displaced in Syria near Turkey since December as Russian-backed Syrian government forces seized territory from Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the nine-year war.

Turkey already hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot handle any more. The EU said on Friday it had received no official word from Ankara that it had suspended the 2016 deal, whereby Brussels sends billions of euros in aid in return for Turkey stemming the migrant flow to Europe.

The scenes at the borders on Friday will revive memories of the 2015 migrant crisis, when more than a million people, mostly from the Middle East and Asia, trekked from Turkey across the Balkans towards western Europe, igniting furious rows between EU governments and fuelling support for far-right parties.

Syrians boarding buses for the border in Istanbul’s Fatih district complained of economic difficulties in Turkey and said they hoped to build a better life in Europe.

“There is no work here. Turkey is not nice at all, Europe is nicer,” said Muhammed Abdullah, 25, adding that he wanted to go to Germany.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)

Greek islanders opposed to new migrant center clash with police

ATHENS (Reuters) – Riot police on the Greek island of Lesbos fired tear gas on Wednesday to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing protesters angry over the creation of a new detention center for migrants, the latest bout of unrest over the matter.

The Athens government infuriated residents of five Aegean islands – all straddling a key route to Europe used by thousands of migrants – by announcing two weeks ago that it would expedite the construction of secured detention centers to replace open-access, severely overcrowded camps.

Local residents say they are concerned such an arrangement could become permanent.

In a second straight day of disturbances on Wednesday, local crowds tried to approach a site earmarked for a new migrant center, triggering clashes with helmeted police on a road winding through a hilly forest.

“More than 1,000 people protesting at the new facility… threw stones at police, smashing their helmets. Police were forced to use chemicals,” a police spokesman said, using a euphemism for tear gas.

At least 10 protesters and dozens of police officers were injured during the clashes before they subsided early in the evening, another police official said.

More police were deployed this week to the five affected islands to deal with the protesters. On the island of Chios on Wednesday, local people stormed into a hotel where newly arrived police officers were staying, precipitating scuffles.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of people gathered in the town of Mytilene on Lesbos as part of a general strike to protest at government plans to create the new closed migrant facility.

On Tuesday, locals used vehicles and rubbish trucks to try to block police reinforcements and heavy machinery in a port.

The Athens government says the closed centers will offer greater security and safety to both asylum seekers and local residents, and plans to build them on the islands of Samos, Kos, Leros and Chios in addition to Lesbos.

Locals say the islands are carrying a disproportionate burden from a migrant crisis that began in 2015 when more than one million people fled violence in the Middle East and beyond via Turkey, reaching Greece and then moving on to wealthier central and northern Europe, their preferred destinations.

Border closures imposed since then along the migrant corridor through the Balkans and central Europe north of Greece have left many thousands of later arrivals marooned on Greek islands near Turkey.

(Reporting by Costas Baltas and Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Michele Kambas and Renee Maltezou; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Greece speeds up creation of migrant holding centers to ease tension

By Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece plans to accelerate the creation of detention centers on its outlying islands in the Aegean Sea after a backlash against overcrowded camps by some migrants and nearby residents.

Authorities said on Monday they would proceed with the purchase of land on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos, and press ahead with plans to create holding facilities on state-owned land on Kos and Leros.

Thousands of migrants are waiting on the islands for their asylum applications to be processed, most of them in overcrowded camps known as reception centers.

Migrants on Lesbos protested last week against poor living conditions and residents of the island took to the streets demanding the reception facilities close.

“The government has decided to close today’s anarchic facilities and create controlled, closed facilities,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said in a statement.

Hundreds of thousands of people crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece in 2015 and 2016 before a deal brokered by the European Union limited the flow. There has been a resurgence in arrivals since around September 2019.

Last year, more than 74,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece, according to the United Nations refugees agency UNHCR. Most of them arrived on Lesbos, Chios and Samos after crossing from Turkey and about 40,000 are now in effect trapped on the islands.

AID GROUPS SAY ACTION NEEDED

Aid groups have described living conditions in some of the island camps as appalling.

“We need 20,000 people to be transferred from the islands to the mainland in the next weeks and months to come,” Philippe Leclerc, UNCHR’s head in Greece, told journalists after a meeting with Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi.

Greece’s conservative New Democracy government, elected last July, has taken a tougher stance toward migration than Syriza, the leftist party that led the previous government.

The government has introduced new regulations which it says will simplify the asylum process and launched a tender for a floating fence in the Aegean which it hopes will deter migrants arriving from Turkey on rafts.

The new detention centers would house new arrivals until their asylum processes were underway, as well as others showing “delinquent behavior” or not entitled to asylum, Petsas said.

Entering and leaving the facilities would be strictly regulated and they would be closed at night, he added.

(Additional reporting by Michele Kambas, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Greece wants floating fence to keep migrants out

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece wants to install a floating barrier in the Aegean Sea to deter migrants arriving at its islands’ shores through Turkey, government officials said on Thursday.

Greece served as the gateway to the European Union for more than one million Syrian refugees and other migrants in recent years. While an agreement with Turkey sharply reduced the number attempting the voyage since 2016, Greek islands still struggle with overcrowded camps operating far beyond their capacity.

The 2.7 kilometer long (1.68 miles) net-like barrier that Greece wants to buy will be set up in the sea off the island of Lesbos, where the overcrowded Moria camp operates.

It will rise 50 centimeters above sea level and carry light marks that will make it visible at night, a government document inviting vendors to submit offers said, adding that it was “aimed at containing the increasing inflows of migrants”.

“The invitation for floating barriers is in the right direction,” Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told Skai Radio. “We will see what the result, what its effect as a deterrent will be in practice.”

“It will be a natural barrier. If it works like the one in Evros… it can be effective,” he said, referring to a cement and barbed-wire fence Greece set up in 2012 along its northern border with Turkey to stop a rise in migrants crossing there.

Aid groups, which have described the living conditions at migrant camps as appalling, said fences in Europe had not deterred arrivals and that Greece should focus on speeding up the processing of asylum requests instead.

“We see, in recent years, a surge in the number of barriers that are being erected but yet people continue to flee,” Βoris Cheshirkov, spokesman in Greece for U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, told Reuters. “Greece has to have fast procedures to ensure that people have access to asylum quickly when they need it.”

Last year, 59,726 migrants and refugees reached Greece’s shores according to the UN agency UNHCR. Nearly 80% of them arrived on Chios, Samos and Lesbos.

A defense ministry official told Reuters the floating fence would be installed at the north of Lesbos, where migrants attempt to cross over due to the short distance from Turkey.

If the 500,000 euro barrier is effective, more parts may be added and it could reach up to 15 kilometers, the official said.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou, Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Peter Graff and Gareth Jones)