Greece is under a deluge of illegal immigrants from every direction. The problem first erupted in the early 1990s, with the opening of the Greek-Albanian border, and continues unabated to this day. By 1999, annual statistics showed 17,000 illegal immigrant arrests in the Evros Prefecture, on the land border with Turkey, alone. At roughly the same time, the daily proceeds of the trafficking of illegal immigrants into Greece was estimated at EUR 100,000.
The bulk of illegal immigrants arrives from Turkey, which serves as the main transit route for the undocumented arrivals from Asia into Europe. Istanbul has become an indisputable hub where masses of illegal immigrants concentrate before beginning the trek to the West. In a city of almost 17 million people, it is estimated that, at any given time, a minimum 500,000 are illegal immigrants waiting to find a way of pushing into Greece and thence to western European countries. In 2007, for example, at least 150 Turkish citizens were accused of transporting illegal immigrants into Greece; most of them were found in cahoots with Greek confederates operating everything from “underground trains” transporting illegals into the mainland to selling forged travel documents and residence permits.
Combating illegal immigration is a top priority for the Greek security and intelligence services. Greek authorities have managed to repatriate 2.2 million persons over the past 15 years, a truly impressive number for a nation of just under 11 million in the southernmost end of continental Europe. And while the economic impact of illegal immigration deluge is putting an extreme strain on Greece's limited and finite resources, imported crime, both organized and casual, a key corollary of illegal immigration, brings its own many vagaries upon the country as well.
Law enforcement statistics show a significant contribution by imported criminals to an explosion of certain types of serious crime almost unknown in Greece only three decades ago as, for example, armed robbery, assassination contracts, protection and extortion rackets, and widespread smuggling of firearms. Trafficking in persons, another scourge of our modern times, has also become embedded inside Greece as an offshoot of mass illegal immigration, with Greek police data showing several Balkan criminal groups earning as much as EUR 30,000 daily from the exploitation of trafficked women and children.
The Greek security services are perfectly capable of securing Greece's borders if there is political will and an effective operational strategy to do so. So far, Greek governments have been less than successful in combating illegal immigration through the combination of border controls, relevant legislation, and a “zero tolerance” approach to smugglers and traffickers of human beings, and their criminal associates. Illegal immigration is already a key challenge to long-term Greek national security, a fact that various political forces still refuse to recognize. This attitude emboldens the criminal element and encourages more undocumented arrivals as Greece acquires the reputation of a country with lax controls -- and guarantees more serious trouble in the not too distant future.