Pressure on Greece's border with Turkey mounts as more refugees flee Middle East

After a temporary respite in the number of irregular immigrants seeking to make their way into Europe through Greece’s land and sea border with Turkey, recent data show a dramatic shift in migration patterns.

Figures show a clear growth trend. In the first seven months of the year, Greek authorities arrested 15,104 undocumented migrants trying to enter the country via Turkey, marking a 143.6 percent increase over the previous year.

The situation is exacerbated by thousands of Syrian refugees trying to escape the violence in the Middle East, making their way from Turkey to Greece.

“If they decide to flee the refugee camps set up in [Syria’s] neighboring countries, the situation will get worse,” Panagiotis Nikas, director of a first-reception service told Kathimerini.

“At the same time, we are holding our breath over the situation in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries,” he said.

Authorities on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos stopped 4,071 immigrants in the first half of the year compared to 1,998 the previous year. Up to 1,025 where intercepted on nearby Samos in July when the number of arrests for the first half of 2013 was 962. On Chios, authorities detained 735 migrants in July against just 293 in the first half of last year.

Data also show a spike in the number of border crossings at Greece’s northeastern Evros region, where a much-hyped 12.5 km razor-wire fence along the Turkish border and beefed-up border control have failed to stem the tide.

In the first half of 2014, border guards arrested 748 immigrants, a 64.4 percent increase over the previous year’s 455 arrests.

“In the past four months, the number of people trying to make their way through Evros has skyrocketed,” said Panagiotis Charelas, president of the nationwide federation of border guards.

“Where last year we only had a few scattered incidents, operations this year have become a daily routine,” he said.

Burden sharing

Last year, Greece spent more than 63 million euros to prevent illegal immigration into its porous border. Only 2.6 million came from Europe’s border control agency Frontex.

Adding to the country’s woes, according to the Dublin Regulation undocumented migrants found anywhere in the EU must be returned to their country of entry, often Greece.

Cash-strapped Greece has called for greater burden sharing among the nations of the 28-member bloc.

“Right now, Greece and Italy have to shoulder a disproportionate burden despite of the fact that our borders are also Europe’s borders and despite the fact that most migrants do not wish to settle in Greece but to move further north,” Nikas said.

Officials in Athens hope that if Dimitris Avramopoulos, slated to become Greece’s next Commissioner, were to take over the immigration portfolio in the next European Commission, Greece will be able to push for greater EU involvement in the problem.