Greek coast guard res­cues hun­dreds in Aegean

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

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.

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