Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The Greek government plans to build a 1.7-mile floating barrier in the Aegean Sea to prevent migrants from entering the country.
The plan, unveiled Thursday, calls for installation of an illuminated net on the surface of the water near the island of Lesbos, where nearly 1 million refugees landed during the Syrian civil war, emigrating through Turkey. The net will rise 20 inches from the water, and has been budgeted for $553,000.
The Greek military, organizers of the project, opened bidding to private contractors, stipulating that the fence must be completed within three months. The country's center-right government made curtailment of immigration a feature in its July election campaign. The 60,000 migrants who reached the Greek islands in 2019 was twice the number of the previous year.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defeated his opponent and predecessor Alexis Tsipras in the election, with promises to reinforce Greece's borders. If Idlib, the last stronghold of Syrian rebels, falls, communities along Greece's Aegean islands fear that additional migrants will arrive.
"At Evros, natural barriers had relative [good] results in containing flows," said Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos, in reference to the barbed-wire topped fence built on the Greece-Turkey land border in 2012. "We believe a similar result can be had with these floating barriers. We are trying to find solutions."
"This proposal marks an alarming escalation in the Greek government's ongoing efforts to make it as difficult as possible for asylum-seekers and refugees to arrive on its shores and will lead to more danger for those desperately seeking safety," Massimo Moratti of Amnesty International said in a statement. "The plan raises serious issues about rescuers' ability to continue providing life-saving assistance to people attempting the dangerous sea crossing to Lesbos. The government must urgently clarify the operational details and necessary safeguards to ensure that this system does not cost further lives."
Dimitris Vitsas, Greece's former migration minister, said the fence would prove to be ineffective.
"The idea that a fence of this length is going to work is totally stupid," Vitsas said. "It's not going to stop anybody making the journey."
Lesbos is the site of a migrant reception center already regarded as dangerously overcrowded.