The number of refugees arriving on Greek islands has risen from 4,500 a day in late September to 7,000 over the past week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Friday, as a toddler was found dead off the coast of Lesvos in the eastern Aegean.
Speaking ahead of a visit to Lesvos Saturday and a meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsirpas in Athens later in the week, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said asylum seekers appeared to be making a move before weather conditions deteriorate.
“All of a sudden, with the kind of weather that you have in the Balkans, this can be a tragedy at any moment,” Guterres said.
The IOM data came as a baby died after the motor of the rubber dinghy carrying him and another 56 people broke down off Levsos, the coast guard said Friday. The 1-year-old boy, whose nationality was not reported, was found unconscious and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Also Friday, sources said that a police officer who was photographed kicking a refugee in a temporary reception center on Lesvos had been identified. He is expected to be summoned to explain himself following an urgent investigation into the incident.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) welcomed the departure Friday of a first group of asylum seekers from Italy to Sweden under the EU’s relocation scheme and expressed hope that the Greek program will start soon.
“We think it will be a slow start but will accelerate once the process functions,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said.
In a related development Friday, Greece’s opposition voiced skepticism over the “Draft Action Plan” unveiled during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Brussels. According to the plan, which is expected to be ratified by the next EU summit later this month, Turkey will join Greek coast guard operations in the Aegean.
“The wording of the plan is extremely worrying as it does not specify the sea area in which the neighboring country will have a right to operate,” conservative heavyweight Dora Bakoyannis said.