Greek coast guard rescues hundreds in Aegean
Greece’s coast guard rescued hundreds of migrants in more than a dozen search and rescue operations, including one in which a toddler was found unconscious in one of the overcrowded dinghies, authorities said Wednesday.
The coast guard said picked up 534 migrants in 14 incidents off the coasts of the eastern Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Agathonissi, Samos, Farmakonissi and Kos from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning. Those numbers do not include the hundreds more who managed to reach the islands in overcrowded dinghies.
Separately, it said a child of about 2 or 3 years old was found unconscious in a dinghy spotted by a patrol helicopter and carrying 54 migrants off Samos. A coast guard vessel picked up the group and the child was taken to a hospital.
Greece seen record numbers of migrant arrivals this year, most fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan. About 160,000 migrants have reached Greece so far since January, compared to 43,500 in all of 2014, according to figures from the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR. More than four-fifths are from Syria, and 14 percent from Afghanistan.
Few — if any — want to stay in Greece, which is reeling from a financial crisis of its own and has an unemployment rate of more than 26 percent. Instead, they head to Greece’s northern border with Macedonia and from there cross the Balkans, heading to the more prosperous European countries of the north, particularly Germany and the Scandinavian countries.
Short-staffed and cash-strapped authorities on islands have been overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of daily arrivals and have struggled to cope with registering the new arrivals.
With the tourist season at its peak, another problem has arisen — regular ferries are fully booked with holidaymakers heading to and from the islands, meaning thousands of migrants have been unable to find tickets to get to the Greek mainland and continue their journeys.
Hundreds of migrants have been camping out for days at the port of the island of Lesbos, which for months saw the largest numbers of arrivals in Greece. Similar scenes have appeared in other islands.
Authorities chartered a ferry they sent to Kos earlier this week, one of the most severely affected islands, where it acted as an accommodation and registration center for migrants.
The ferry set sail from Kos Wednesday morning with 1,308 migrants on board, the coast guard said, and headed to the nearby small islands of Kalymnos and Leros to pick up hundreds more before heading to the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki. The ship was expected to arrive there early Thursday.