Greece moves to halt surge of migrant arrivals from Turkey

The Greek government has stepped up sea patrols and begun shipping asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland to address what it calls “huge waves” of migrants arriving from Turkey, the Guardian reported on Monday.  

As boatloads of men, women and children arrive on Greece’s Aegean islands, the new government in Athens vowed to bolster sea patrols in response to renewed vigour from people-smugglers.

“We are seeing huge waves being brought in by traffickers using new methods and better and faster boats,” Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said after new measures were announced at the weekend.

“If the situation were to continue we’d have a repeat of 2015. We are going to take measures to protect our borders and we are going to be much stricter, much faster in applying them.”

Athens is also appealing to NATO and the EU to help step up patrols in the area, according to the Guardian, as a sharp uptick in arrivals has taken officials by surprise. 

Last week, Lesbos saw its busiest day of migrant arrivals in nearly four years, as close to 650 people, including 240 children mostly of Afghan origin, landed in a matter of hours.

A crackdown on migrants in Turkey, which is hosting more than 3.6 million Syrians, and renewed fighting in Syria’s Idlib province appear to have spurred the jump, according to the Guardian. Last month, Turkish authorities reported a seven-fold increase in those making the crossing to Greece. 

NGOs say camps on the islands are stretched to the breaking point, with residents forced to live in squalid conditions, the Guardian reported. Nearly 11,000 people are staying in Moria, the main refugee settlement on Lesbos, which was designed to host 3,000.

Athens has begun relocating some 1,500 asylum-seekers to the mainland, and the first ferry, carrying 635 people, arrived in Thessaloniki on Monday evening, the Associated Press reported

Chrysochoidis has attempted to allay fears that authorities were poised to mount a massive crackdown on migrants, said the Guardian. “We don’t want ghetto camps,” he said. “Asylum seekers will enjoy all their rights under international law in Greece.”