Greece res­cues 1,417 mi­grants over three days

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY SRDJAN NEDELJKOVIC AND DEMETRIS NEL­LAS

Greece’s coast guard res­cued more than 1,400 mi­grants in nearly 60 search and res­cue oper­a­tions near sev­eral Greek is­lands in the eastern Aegean Sea over the past three days as the pace of new ar­rivals in­crease, author­i­ties said Mon­day.

Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple, many of them flee­ing war and con­flict in Syria and Afghanistan, have been mak­ing their way from the Turk­ish coast to nearby Greek is­lands in in­flat­able dinghies, over­whelm­ing cash-strapped and un­der­staffed author­i­ties on the is­lands. The vast ma­jor­ity then head to main­land Greece and from there, try to ac­cess more pros­per­ous Euro­pean Union coun­tries by ei­ther walk­ing across the Balkans from north­ern Greece, or sneak­ing onto Italy-bound fer­ries from the west.

The 1,417 mi­grants res­cued be­tween Fri­day morn­ing and Mon­day morn­ing were picked up at sea in 59 sep­a­rate in­ci­dents off the coasts of the is­lands of Les­bos, Chios, Samos, Agath­on­isi and Kos, the coast guard said.

Those fig­ures do not in­clude the hun­dreds of oth­ers who man­age to reach the is­lands’ coasts them­selves, walk­ing to the main towns to turn them­selves in to lo­cal author­i­ties and re­ceive reg­is­tra­tion pa­pers.

On the is­land of Kos alone, more than 150 mi­grants in at least six boats landed on the shore in the early hours of Mon­day morn­ing.

Some 40 Syr­i­ans waved and cheered as their boat ar­rived at the pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion. Men jumped into the wa­ter to help women and chil­dren off the dinghy, with one man so over­come with emo­tion that he be­gan to sob.

Mukhtar, a So­mali mi­grant who ar­rived fur­ther north, on the is­land of Les­bos, said he had made his way to Greece in an ef­fort to get to Nor­way where his fam­ily lives.

“I haven’t seen my fam­ily for 20 years,” said Mukhtar, who would only give his first name, in Myti­lene, the is­land’s cap­i­tal. “I want to see my fam­ily.”

He is one of some 124,000 mi­grants who reached the Greek is­lands by boat in the first seven months of 2015, a stag­ger­ing 750 per­cent in­crease from the same pe­riod last year, ac­cord­ing to the UNHCR, the United Na­tions’ refugee agency. In July alone, there were 50,000 ar­rivals, about 70 per­cent from Syria. The vast ma­jor­ity land on five is­lands: Les­bos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros, the UNHCR said in a state­ment re­leased Fri­day.

“It was very dan­ger­ous by the sea. We trav­elled four times, they caught us three times but the fourth time ... we came here on a safe boat,” Mukhtar said.

The mi­grants pay large sums to get to Europe. Just the short cross­ing from Tur­key to Les­bos costs “ap­prox­i­mately US$500” said Sa­jid, a mi­grant from Afghanistan.

Ar­rivals have be­come so fre­quent they are now seen as rou­tine by lo­cals. On Kos, lo­cal res­i­dents and ho­tel em­ploy­ees watched un- fazed Sun­day as a dozen Pak­istani mi­grants punc­tured their life raft and gath­ered their be­long­ings as soon as they landed, and asked for di­rec­tions to the near­est mi­grant de­ten­tion cen­ter.

The mi­grants’

trip

is

fraught with dan­ger and anx­i­ety about get­ting turned back.

Greece, in the throes of its worst ever fi­nan­cial cri­sis, is strain­ing to ac­com­mo­date the in­flow. The new left­ist gov­ern­ment closed a large de­ten­tion cen­ter out­side Athens in Fe­bru­ary, leav­ing mi­grants to set up tents in public parks. It is now build­ing a new cen­ter in cen­tral Athens where it says mi­grants will be free to come and go as they please. It ex­pects to start mov­ing peo­ple from parks by Tues­day.

AP

(Above) A Greek po­lice­man tries to hold mi­grants be­hind a fence as they wait for a reg­is­tra­tion pro­ce­dure out­side a po­lice sta­tion on the south­east­ern is­land of Kos, Mon­day, Aug. 10. (Right) Mi­grants from Syria ar­rive on a beach on the is­land of Kos, af­ter cross­ing a part of the Aegean Sea be­tween Tur­key and Greece on Mon­day.

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