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Immigrants wait to be released from a detention center after being processed in Filakio, Greece on Nov. 12, 2010.

JODI HILTON/Jodi Hilton

They huddle together, shivering violently in the freezing morning, shoes and trousers soaked. Some cradle babies or lead toddlers by the hand. Bewildered children cry.

Fleeing war or poverty, these migrants and legions of others have sneaked across the Greek-Turkish border illegally to the promised land of European Union riches.

Over the past few years, most European countries have been relatively successful in closing down illegal border crossings. The main exception is Greece with its thousands of kilometres of difficult-to-patrol shorelines and islands.

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The farming village of Nea Vyssa has become the flashpoint in the country's immigration crisis. Along with nearby village Kastanies, it lies on the 12.5-kilometre stretch of border where land frontier with Turkey doesn't run along the middle of the Evros River.

More than a hundred Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Iranians and Somalis - men, women and children - cross from Turkey to Greece every day. They come escaping grinding poverty, conflict and persecution. Some report having travelled for months and walked for days before crossing the Evros River in flimsy rubber boats. Over the past few years, more than 140 bodies have washed ashore, and there are reports that bandits target migrants as they cross no-man's land on foot.

Greece, which now accounts for 90 per cent of the EU's detected illegal border crossings, is obligated by law to accept most of the immigrants, as Turkey will accept only 1,000 per year, a fraction of the thousands who flood into the country. This year, the crisis has reached an all-time high.

Greece counted more than 45,000 irregular border crossings in the first half of 2010. But, as the country confronts its own economic and social unrest, it is ill-equipped to deal with so many newcomers. Its detention centres, where migrants are processed and usually released in a matter of days, are in deplorable condition, overcrowded and filthy.

This month, the European Union began dispatching rapid intervention teams from its border agency, Frontex, to assist the Greek police. The well-equipped EU teams patrol the border areas, round up migrants and bring them to detention centres, as well as working inside the detention centres to speed up processing of detainees.

Many of the migrants say they plan to go to Britain, but many thousands remain in limbo in Greece.

"The most important thing was to leave my country. I don't actually know where I'm going," said Ibrahim, an exhausted, French-speaking 22-year-old who, like most of the migrants, would only give his first name.

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"The most important thing was to find a country where there is peace. Do you understand? That was my objective."

With a report from The Associated Press

























































































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