For Illegal Immigrants, Greek Border Offers a Back Door to Europe
ALEXANDROUPOLIS, Greece -- At the train station here, an unshaven man with a weary look leaned against the brick wall of a building, taking in the morning sun. He said that his name was Zulifoar Baht; that he was 38, from Pakistan; and that his train for Athens would not arrive until midafternoon. So there was nothing to do but wait, along with a dozen or so other illegal immigrants who had finally made it into Greece from Turkey, crossing one of the most porous borders in Europe.
The 126-mile border between Turkey, which is not in the European Union, and Greece, which is, has become the back door to the European Union, making member countries ever more resentful as a tide of immigrants from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa continues to grow. Frontex, the European Union's border policing agency, estimated that a vast majority of the crossings in 2011 occurred at the Greece-Turkey border. Last year, Frontex said, more than 55,000 people crossed the border, a 17 percent rise from the year before.
The flow has raised tensions throughout Europe, to the point where the top French official responsible for immigration seriously suggested that a wall be built along the entire border. In Greece, one person in 20 is estimated to be here illegally, at a time when the country is sinking in debt, the far right is making political gains and instances of knife-wielding vigilantes taking out their frustrations on immigrants are becoming increasingly common.
Zarif Bakhtyri, 28, a wiry, streetwise playwright and aspiring film director, said he fled Afghanistan in 2006 after rankling the authorities by writing and directing a play that criticized polygamy. Mr. Bakhtyri's story is a familiar one -- making it to Greece, where he was jailed and then released, then moving along a route that led him to Italy, Norway, Sweden, and back to Greece in 2010 because it was his point of entry.