ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece plans to shift roughly half of its police officers who are used for guard duty to crime-fighting efforts in cities instead, the national police spokesman said Tuesday. He added that a move to massively boost security at the border with Turkey, in part out of concerns about an influx of Syrian refugees, would be permanent.
Greece has seen a sharp rise in violent crime since the country's debt crisis exploded in late 2009. With unemployment above 20 percent, officials also are under pressure to crack down on illegal migration; Greece is the busiest entry point for illegal immigrants trying to reach the European Union.
Police spokesman Christos Manouras told The Associated Press that police currently use more than 3,000 officers to guard politicians and public sites such as parliament. That number will be slashed in half, and in some cases guards will be replaced by private security, he said.
The 1,500 officers taken off guard duty will be used for police patrols, mostly in Athens, in hopes of reducing crime, he said.
Manouras said the deployment of an additional 1,881 officers to the Turkish border would begin Thursday — a four-fold increase in border guards that the police spokesman said would be a permanent fixture.
The border security boost, first announced Monday, was framed in part as a response to potential migration by Syrians seeking to escape their country's civil war. Turkey already hosts thousands of Syrian refugees.
Manouras said the increase in security would include regular boat patrols along the Evros River that separates Greece and Turkey. He said "there already is an inflow of immigrants from Syria" but gave no details. Getting from Syria to Greece is a roughly 1,400 kilometer (870-mile) journey across Turkey.
"We must seal the border. For that reason we will reinforce all the Evros frontier line," Manouras said.