ATHENS – Greece will monitor its maritime border with a zeppelin that will fly over the island of Samos to find migrants traveling from Turkey.
The pilot project, which starts on Tuesday, aims to strengthen the protection of the external borders of the European Union.
It will last 28 days, during which the ship will fly continuously 24 hours a day, and will be carried out in cooperation with the European Border Agency.
Migration Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos said in a statement to Greek television channel ANT1 that the zeppelin will observe a large area, which will allow to discover ships trying to reach Greece when they leave Turkey.
The zeppelin will then inform the Turkish authorities, who will approach the vessel in question.
Koumoutsakos said that “there are no hot returns. Everything will be done in accordance with international law.”
Some NGOs have accused Greek and Turkish coastguards of blocking the passage of some vessels that had already reached European waters, stopping migrants and returning them to Turkey.
The Aegean Boat Report filed a complaint a week ago with a video in which coastguards from both countries allegedly collaborated to return a group of migrants to Turkey.
It is the first time that a member of the EU has used a zeppelin for this purpose, although it is not new in Greece, with one being used during the 2004 Olympic Games to monitor Athens.
The airship, 35 meters long, has a radar, an infrared camera and an automatic identification system, a mechanism by which the position of the vessels is reported to avoid collisions.
A zeppelin is an aircraft that flies using large gasbags filled with a lifting gas that is less dense than the surrounding air.
They were mainly used between 1900 and 1930, after which they lost popularity due to multiple accidents and the development of airplanes.
Greece’s government, headed by conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has announced a number of changes in migration policies since coming to power in early July.
New measures have included the acceleration of asylum exams and returns to Turkey, in a strict application of the joint statement between Ankara and Brussels.
Mitsotakis has said he hopes to decongest the five islands of the Aegean, Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos, where currently more than 16,000 asylum seekers live, although the capacity of the camps where they reside is only 6,000 people.