Greece: EU Commission upgrades border surveillance – and criticises it at the same time

The Greek border police are using a sound cannon and drones on a new border fence, and the EU Commission expresses its „concern“ about this. However, it is itself funding several similar research projects, including a semi-autonomous drone with stealth features for „effective surveillance of borders and migration flows“

On Monday, the Associated Press (AP) news agency had reported that police in Greece plan to deploy a long-range sound cannon at the external border with Turkey in the future. The device, mounted on a police tank, makes a deafening noise with the volume of a jet engine. It is part of a system of steel walls that is being installed and tested along with drones on the 200-kilometre border with Turkey for migration defence. The vehicle, made by the Canadian manufacturer Streit, comes from a series of seized „Typhoons“ that were to be illegally exported to Libya via Dubai.

After the AP report about the sound cannons went viral, Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz had clarified that it was not an EU project.

Yesterday, AP reported again on this. According to Jahnz, the Commission has „noted with concern“ the installation of the technology and is requesting information on its use. Methods used in EU member states would have to comply with European fundamental rights, including the „right to dignity“. The right to asylum and the principle of non-refoulement in states where refugees face persecution must also be respected.

The Commission’s outrage is anything but credible. After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used refugees to storm the Turkish-Greek border in March 2020, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen travelled to the border river Evros before the start of a Frontex mission and declared her solidarity there. Literally, the former German Defence Minister said: „I thank Greece for being our European shield“.

Commission funds research on border surveillance

Also yesterday, the Commission-funded ROBORDER project said in a statement that it is now cooperating with the BorderUAS project. Both are about the use of drones. The police in Greece are involved and the applications are to be tested there.

Infrared surveillance image at border wall (ROBORDER).

The acronym ROBORDER stands for „Autonomous Swarm of Heterogeneous Robots for Border Surveillance“. It works with drones on water, on land and in the air. In Greece, for example, a drone is to be used to detect „unauthorised sea border crossing“, as well as an aircraft from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft with a surveillance test platform, radar systems and thermal imaging cameras.

All drones in ROBORDER are supposed to be able to operate in swarms. They are controlled via a mobile control centre from the German company Elettronica. This „Multipurpose Mission Support Vehicle“ (MUROS) is used to collect all recorded data. The project, which will soon come to an end, will cost around nine million euros, of which the EU Commission will pay the largest share.

High-resolution cameras on lighter-than-air drones

The acronym BorderUAS means „Semi-Autonomous Border Surveillance Platform with a High-Resolution Multi-Sensor Surveillance Payload“. Border authorities, police forces as well as companies and institutes mainly from Eastern Europe and Greece want to use it to investigate so-called lighter-than-air drones.

These can be small zeppelins or balloons that are propelled by alternative propulsion systems and have a multitude of sensors and cameras. The participating company HiperSfera from Croatia markets such systems for border surveillance, for example.

The project aims to prevent migration on the so-called Eastern Mediterranean route, the Western Balkan route and across the EU’s eastern external land border. According to the project description, these account for 58 percent of all detected irregular border crossings. BorderUAS ends in 2023, and the technology will be tested by police forces in Greece, Ukraine and Belarus until then. The Commission is funding the entire budget with around seven million euros.

Civilian and military drone research

For border surveillance, the EU Defence Agency and the Commission are funding numerous civilian and military drone projects in Greece. These include the €35 million OCEAN2020 project, which conducts research on the integration of drones and unmanned submarines into fleet formations. ARESIBO, which costs around seven million euros and on which the Greek, Portuguese and Romanian Ministries of Defence and the NATO Research Centre are working on drone technology, will end in 2022. With another five million euros, the Commission is supporting an „Information Exchange for Command, Control and Coordination Systems at the Borders“ (ANDROMEDA). This also involves drones used by navies, coast guards and the police forces of the member states.

Surveillance equipment to be tested in CAMELOT at Evros river.

In CAMELOT are flying various drones from Israel and Portugal, and as in ROBORDER, a single ground station is to be used for this purpose. A scenario „illegal activity, illegal immigration persons“ is being tested with various surveillance equipment at the Evros river. The Commission is contributing eight million euros of the total sum. This year, results from FOLDOUT will also be tried out on the Greek-Turkish border river Evros, involving satellites, high-flying platforms and drones with technology for „through-foliage detection“ in the „outermost regions of the EU. The Commission is allocating eight million euros for this as well.

Also with EU funding, predominantly Greek partners, including drone manufacturers ALTUS and Intracom Defense, as well as the Air Force, are developing a drone under the acronym LOTUS with „autonomy functions“ and stealth features for surveillance. The project manager promotes the system as suitable for „effective surveillance of borders and migration flows“.

Image: Surveillance in ROBORDER.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.