When there's a will, there's a way — migrants seeking illegal entry have proven the old proverb true countless times as they and their smugglers have adapted to enforcement strategies. The latest development in the cat-and-mouse game comes not from the United States, but from Europe.
Although the recession has reduced demand for labor across the European Union (EU), the economy is not the only factor.
Bilateral agreements — particularly the one between Italy and Libya, which includes support and funding for Libya's cooperation in deterring illegal migration — and increased enforcement from Frontex, the EU border agency, have moved the pressure points from Spain's Canary Islands, off the coast of West Africa, and Italy's Lampedusa island in the Mediterranean to Greece.
The shift is similar to the one seen in the United States in the late 1990s, when enforcement in California and Texas pushed flows to Arizona, which remains the main entry point today.
In fact, Greece became the main European gateway for unauthorized immigrants in 2008, with 50 percent of EU detected illegal border crossings. But the country thoroughly cemented its front-runner position in October 2010 when Frontex declared that Greece now accounts for 90 percent of all such detections.
Most problematic is the land border with Turkey, with an estimated 350 migrants attempting to cross near the Greek city of Orestiada each day. Many of the migrants are from Afghanistan, with smaller numbers from Algeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Iraq.
Recognizing the severity of the situation, Greece's Minister of Citizen Protection asked Frontex in late October to deploy a team of specialized border guards who deal with emergency situations.
Frontex agreed to Greece's request within five days, marking the first time the team has been sent into action. A total of 175 specialists from 26 countries are expected to remain in Greece for two months. The strategy appears to have had an impact already: Frontex reported that 43.7 percent fewer migrants were intercepted at the Greek-Turkish land border in November compared to October.
For migrants, Greece is hardly a great place to land. Although reform plans are in the works, Greece's asylum system has not functioned well for years and often does not identify those who need protection; just 3 percent of asylum applicants received refugee status in 2009, among the lowest recognition rates in Europe. This situation makes it all the more important for Greece to improve its border management.
Question: Will strategies that worked for Spain and Italy help Greece reduce illegal flows?