Seeking to enter Europe, migrants will reckon with the digital fortress | Derek gattopoulos

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PEPLO, Greece— As the world begins to travel again, Europe sends a strong message to migrants: Stay away! Greek border police fire bursts of deafening noise from an armored truck over the Turkish border. Mounted on the vehicle, the long-range acoustic device, or “sound cannon”, is the size of a small television set but can match the volume of a jet engine.

It is one of a wide array of new physical and experimental digital barriers installed and tested during the calm months of the coronavirus pandemic at the 200 kilometer Greek border with Turkey to prevent people from entering the European Union illegally. .

A new steel wall, similar to a recent construction on the US-Mexico border, blocks commonly used crossings along the Evros River that separates the two countries.

The nearby observation towers are equipped with long-range cameras, night vision and several sensors. The data will be sent to a control center to report suspicious movements using artificial intelligence analysis.

“We will have a clear picture of what is happening before the border,” Police Major Dimonsthenis Kamargios, head of the region’s border guard authority, told The Associated Press.

The EU invested 3 billion euros ($ 3.7 billion) in research on security technologies in the wake of the refugee crisis in 2015-2016, when more than a million people, many of them fled the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, fled to Greece and other EU countries. .

The automated surveillance network being built on the Greek-Turkish border aims to quickly detect migrants and deter them from crossing, with river and land patrols using searchlights and long-range acoustic devices.

Key elements of the network will be launched by the end of the year, Kamargios said. “Our task is to prevent migrants from entering the country illegally. We need modern equipment and tools to do this.

Researchers from universities across Europe, working with private companies, have developed futuristic monitoring and verification technology and tested more than a dozen projects at Greek borders.

AI-powered lie detectors and virtual border guard interview robots have been tested, along with efforts to integrate satellite data with drone imagery on land, in the air, in sea ​​and underwater. Palm scanners record the unique pattern of veins in a person’s hand for use as a biometric identifier, and the makers of live camera reconstruction technology promise to virtually erase the foliage, exposing people who are hide near border areas.

Tests were also carried out in Hungary, Latvia and elsewhere along the eastern perimeter of the EU.

The more aggressive migration strategy has been put forward by European policymakers over the past five years, funding deals with Mediterranean countries outside the bloc to retain migrants and transforming the EU’s border protection agency, Frontex, from a coordination mechanism to full-fledged multinational security. Obligate.

But regional migration agreements have left the EU exposed to political pressure from its neighbors.

Earlier this month, several thousand migrants crossed Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in a single day, prompting Spain to deploy the army. A similar crisis unfolded on the Greek-Turkish border for three weeks last year.

A Greek police officer uses a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), attached to a police vehicle, while on patrol along the Greek-Turkish border near the town of Feres, Greece. (PA)

Greece is urging the EU to let Frontex patrol outside its territorial waters to prevent migrants from reaching Lesvos and other Greek islands, the most common route in Europe for illegal passage in recent years.

Armed with new technological tools, European law enforcement authorities are leaning more beyond borders.

Not all of the surveillance programs tested will be included in the new detection system, but human rights groups say emerging technology will make it even more difficult for refugees fleeing wars and extreme hardship to find safety.

Patrick Breyer, a German EU lawmaker, has taken an EU research authority to court, demanding that details of the AI-based lie detection program be made public.

“What we see at borders and in the treatment of foreign nationals in general is that it is often a testing ground for technologies that will then be used on Europeans as well. And that’s why everyone should care, for their own sake, ”Breyer of the German Pirate Party told the PA.

He urged authorities to allow extensive surveillance of border surveillance methods to address ethical concerns and prevent the technology from being sold through private partners to authoritarian regimes outside the EU.

Ella Jakubowska, of digital rights group EDRi, argued that EU officials are embracing “techno-solutionism” to sideline moral considerations in dealing with the complex issue of migration.

“It is deeply disturbing that time and again EU funds are invested in expensive technologies that are used in such a way as to criminalize, experiment and dehumanize people on the move,” she said.

London-based Privacy International argued that strengthening border policing would offer a political reward to EU leaders who have taken a hard line on migration.

“If people who migrate are seen only as a security issue to be deterred and addressed, the inevitable result is that governments will use technology to control them,” said Edin Omanovic, advocacy director for the group.

“It’s not hard to see why: Across Europe we have power-seeking autocrats targeting foreigners, if not progressive leaders who have found no alternative to copying their agendas and a rampant arms industry with wide access to decision makers. “

Migration flows slowed in many parts of Europe during the pandemic, interrupting an increase recorded over the years. In Greece, for example, the number of arrivals fell from nearly 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 global migrant population grew by more than 80% to 272 million, according to United Nations data, rapidly outpacing international population growth.

In the Greek border village of Poros, the breakfast discussion in a café focused on the recent crisis on the Spanish-Moroccan border.

Many houses in the area are abandoned and gradually collapsing and life is adjusting to this reality.

The cows use the steel wall as a barrier against the wind and rest nearby.

Panagiotis Kyrgiannis, a resident of Poros, said the wall and other preventive measures had crippled migrant crossings.

“We are used to seeing them go through and through the village in groups of 80 or 100,” he says. “We weren’t afraid. … They don’t want to settle here. Everything that happens around us does not concern us.

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