Athens increasing border patrol amid migrant influx from Turkey

Greece has rolled up its sleeves to increase border patrols and controls to stem the increasing migrant flows, particularly from the Aegean Sea, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported on Tuesday.

Athens is looking to seal land borders and improve sea surveillance “from one end of the Aegean to the other,” following emergency government meetings over the weekend on the recent migrant influx, the newspaper said.

Last month, more than 500 migrants arrived at the Aegean island of Lesbos in what Greek officials said was the largest influx since the peak of Europe’s refugee crisis in early 2016. Another 400 migrants landed there on Friday and arrivals continued over the weekend, the newspaper said.

Turkey is one of the main departure points for migrants seeking to enter Europe by sea, but a 2016 agreement with the European Union sharply cut the numbers of refugees using that route.

Athens’ plan involves increased surveillance, in collaboration with the Defence and Shipping ministries, to more strictly monitor the country’s sea borders, Kathimerini reported.

Five coast guard vessels will be transferred to the eastern Aegean, boosting the already existing force of 45, it added.

The decision to increase border patrol by Athens arrives following warnings from Ankara to Europe that it could face another refugee crisis.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said “we will be forced to open the doors’’ to the country’s 3.6 million refugees unless the EU supports the creation of a “security zone” in neighbouring Syria to enable refugees to return to their country.  

“You either give support or, if you won’t, sorry, but we can only put up with so much,” Erdoğan said earlier this month.

Athens is looking to address another source of rising tension with Ankara on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is scheduled to meet U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss the Eastern Mediterranean, where potential oil and gas reserves have further soured relations between the countries, Kathimerini reported on Monday. 

Nicosia and Athens disagree with Ankara’s claims of drilling rights in the region. Turkey, the only nation to recognise Northern Cyprus, maintains that attempts by Cyprus to conduct gas exploration are a violation of the rights of the Turkish part of the divided island.