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Uniformed police officers from 25 countries are helping Greece guard the Evros River as part of the European Union’s border protection agency, Frontex.

According to Frontex estimates, 21,000 immigrants and asylum seekers managed to cross over illegally in the first six months of 2012.

Afghans currently make up the highest number of people crossing illegally, followed by Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and an increasing number of people from war-ravaged Syria, according to the agency.

Human rights groups object

The police operation has faced strong criticism from human rights groups, local officials, and even police officers’ associations — with criticism focusing on alleged racial profiling and police brutality.

Police video showing riot police and other officers rounding up mostly South Asian immigrants as they got off a train that arrived at Athens’ main station also received condemnation from local rights groups and left-wing opposition parties.

Amnesty International called on Greek authorities to stop the roundups immediately.

“While Greece has the right to control migration, it does not have the right to treat people like criminals purely because of the color of their skin,” Amnesty’s Jezerca Tigani said in a statement.

He warned that many immigrants fleeing war zones and potential persecution from dictatorial regimes are being denied a fair asylum assessment.

Greece may be going through financial difficulties while facing one of the highest migration flows among EU countries,” Ms. Tigani said, “but these police operations violate international human rights standards and should stop immediately.”

Police say migrants’ rights are being respected.

“Our aim is to deter illegal immigrants and arrest traffickers, but the migrants’ well-being and rights are always a main priority,” said Orestiada police Chief Yiorgos Salamangas.

The government insists the operation is working. It reported a drop in illegal border crossings by about 90 percent in the first week.

“This is a massive operation that is taking place in the country for the first time, and it will continue in the long-term,” police spokesman Christos Manouras said.

“It is widely accepted that the expulsion of immigrants who are here illegally is a national necessity, an issue of national survival.”

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