Greece has defended plans to build a 12.5km fence across part of its border with Turkey in a bid to prevent a wave of immigrants from flowing into the country, its public order ministry has said.
Asian and African migrants increasingly use the northern Greece Evros border with Turkey to reach European Union (EU) countries, after the bloc stepped up surveillance at its sea borders and Spain and Italy signed repatriation deals with African countries.
Last year, about 128,000 illegal immigrants crossed into Greece, more than 40,000 of them at the Evros border post, Christos Papoutsis, the citizen protection minister, said in a statement on Monday.
"This is the hard reality and we have an obligation to the Greek citizen to deal with it," Papoutsis said.
"In an effort to manage the inflow of illegal migrants, we are proceeding with the installation of means to deter illegal entries along a 12.5km land border in Evros."
Athens will "put in place means to push back illegal migrants," the minister said in a statement, adding that the stretch was totally unprotected.
Papoutsis also denounced the "hypocrisy of those who criticise," the plan and underscored Greece's duty to "protect the rights of its citizens and those who live legally in the country".
Earlier on Monday, a European Commission spokesman said that "fences and walls have proven in the past to be really short term measures that don't really help addressing and managing the migratory challenges in a more consolidated and structural way".
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly urged Greece to ensure its efforts to fight illegal immigration do not harm legitimate asylum-seekers, including Afghans, Iraqis and Somalis.
Greece's land border with Turkey is more than 200km long and mostly runs along a river. The fence will be built in the area where most migrants arrive, officials said.
Athens has long complained that Turkey is not doing enough to stop illegal migrants and that Ankara's refusal to take back immigrants who have crossed from its territory encourages would-be migrants to use that route.
But both countries have pledged over recent months to improve co-operation on the issue and Papoutsis said that the measures were "in no way against Turkey, on the contrary they ease and boost our co-operation".
Arrivals of illegal migrants jumped at the northern border last year - by an annual 369 per cent in the nine months to September, according to the EU border agency Frontex - and human rights groups have severely criticised the conditions in which the migrants are kept.
Greece, whose asylum and migration laws have been criticised for years, will pass in the coming days a law creating an independent authority examining asylum requests and an independent service to oversee detention centres.
Nine out of 10 illegal immigrants use Greece as their springboard into the EU and the debt-ridden country is struggling to cope with the swelling numbers.