Greece has called for emergency additional funds from the European Union to contain the rising tide of illegal crossings into its territory propelled by conflict in Syria and Iraq.
“We are facing a great challenge,” Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis told a press conference in Athens on Thursday, saying that the number of undocumented migrants intercepted in the Aegean Sea was expected to triple by the end of 2014 over the same period last year.
According to ministry data, more than 10,500 people were detained while trying to cross Greece’s sea border in 2013 while 17,000 people – the majority of them Syrians – were arrested in the first eight months of 2014.
Greece, at the sharp end of Europe’s illegal immigration problem, is supported by Frontex, the 27-member bloc’s border management agency, and is slated to receive a total of 71 million euros in financial aid for the period between 2007-2015.
However, on Thursday, Varvitsiotis stated that Greece needed an extra 63 million to meet staff requirements, saying previous EU funds had been used to upgrade coast guard equipment.
Varvitsiotis, who came under fire earlier this year following the death of 12 immigrants in a botched coast guard operation near Farmakonisi island in the southern Aegean, said that failure to enhance Greece’s operational capability could undermine the effectiveness of rescue operations.
“We have reached our limits. The risk is to have more incidents at sea,” he said.
He said it would help if Dimitris Avramopoulos, Greece’s representative on the new European Commission, were appointed migration, fundamental rights and home affairs commissioner. Greece’s defense minister was expected to assume the post, according to a leaked document released by the EurActiv news website on Thursday.