The number of people crossing illegally into Greece via the Evros border has dropped by 84 percent since the government launched a massive crackdown on clandestine migrants this summer, police said Wednesday.
According to official figures, some 1,121 unregistered immigrants have been arrested in Evros since the start of the Xenios Zeus sweep on August 4 compared to 6,991 in the same period last year. Illegal arrivals this month have dwindled drastically compared to last year. In 2011, border guards detained 403 illegal immigrants on September 1 while on the same day this year none was intercepted.
But although the problem in Evros has eased, to the relief of local authorities and residents, a renewed influx via the islands of the eastern Aegean suggest that people smugglers are one step ahead of the authorities.
The mayor of Symi, Lefteris Papakalodoukas, told Kathimerini that the past two weeks have seen a surge of would-be migrants from the neighboring Turkish coast.
?It?s terrible, some 120 to 130 immigrants gather in front of the main police precinct every day and there are only five officers on duty to deal with them,? Papakalodoukas said.
Meanwhile, sources said that as many as 6,000 would-be immigrants are currently gathered in neighboring Turkey, waiting their turn to board smuggling ships to bring them to Greece. Papakalodoukas told Kathimerini that two coast guard vessels have been patrolling the sea between Symi and the Turkish coast this week and arrested two suspected smugglers on Tuesday.
In a related development, sources pointed to an increase in the number of would-be migrants entering Greece via sections of its border with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Back in Athens, a police crackdown on illegal immigrants living in the city center is continuing despite objections by rights groups that have described the raids as a pogrom.
Police said a total of 16,836 people were being temporarily detained in the broader Athens area, out of whom 2,144 have been arrested since the start of the operation for lacking residence papers.