Rising tide of illegal immigrants swamp Greek islands

April 20, 2015 | By | Reply More

Apr 20, – “The situation is no longer manageable,” said International Organization for Migration worker Zoi Livaditou, who each morning takes stock of new groups of immigrants plucked from the Aegean Sea or arriving on the beach after risky night-time crossings.

Rising tide of illegal immigrants swamp Greek islandsThe Greek island of Lesbos is being flooded by a rising tide of people seeking to illegally migrate to Europe from the nearby Turkish coast on just about anything that will float.

“We’re averaging around 200 arrivals each day,” Livaditou said, noting that Lesbos’ capital, Mytilene, counts only 36,000 full-time residents.

But with both Mytilene and a recently-opened detention centre now overflowing — and with aid workers unable to give those rescued much more than survival blankets — local officials now see little alternative to letting immigrants continue on their journey to reach Athens.

“We started on foot from Iran,” said a 25-year-old Iran-born Afghan who recently arrived from the Turkish coast, visible to the naked eye from Lesbos.

“We walked nearly 20 hours towards Turkey without food or water, and some people were injured,” he said, adding that he left his mother and two brothers behind in the hopes of getting “a chance to be reborn” in Europe.

Most migrants make the crossing to Lesbos in inflatable boats supplied by human traffickers. Confiscated by the Greek coast guard, a growing number of the flimsy vessels can now be seen bobbing on the waves near the island’s pier.

– Mother and newborn twins –

“It was very dangerous. The inflatable boat was packed with people, it was dark, and there were lots of little children,” said Ismail Kadilah, a 37-year-old Kurd who fled the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo.

Encountered as he disembarked from a ferry in Athens’ Piraeus port, Kadilah said he spent “two days in a camp on Lesbos.”

After that, he said, authorities “released us and bought us a ticket for Athens.”

Kadilah said his wife and three children were still in Turkey, waiting for him to “rent an apartment thanks to someone we know from Syria who is already in Athens” — a phrase often used by immigrants who take squalid rooms from slum landlords doing business in Greece’s capital.

The market for such shady services is ripe.

Neither Athens nor other Greek cities have many facilities to provide first aid or lodgings to migrants and asylum seekers.

According to the state secretariat for immigration created by Greece’s new hard-left government, the entire country counts only 200 emergency quarters, 1,000 lodgings and 300 rooms to house minors.

The new government blames that scarcity on the political priorities of previous cabinets. Those, officials say, focused on opening confinement centres with capacities for about 4,500 immigrants each, and where detention can last up to 18 months.

To deal with the surging influx of people, government officials have called on local authorities to use abandoned state buildings, stadiums or military barracks as temporary quarters for newly arrived immigrants.

A total 10,445 migrants arrived on Greek shores during the first quarter of 2015, a number more than tripling the 2,863 people registered during the same period last year, according to the coast guard.

Those figures confirmed the acceleration of illegal immigration to Greece in 2014, when 43,518 people arrived by maritime routes compared to 11,447 in 2013.

All Greece’s Aegean islands are affected by the influx, including Leros, Kos, Chios, Rhodes and Crete.

On Saturday, Greek coast guard boats rescued a group of migrants off the southern coast of Samos, a young mother and her newborn twins among them.

Press journalist for HRO media – Ignacio Damigo reports.

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Category: International

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