Islands brace for influx of Syrian refugees

Local authorities on the islands of the northeastern Aegean are bracing for what is expected to be a growing wave of refugees from war-torn Syria, as measures to reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants via the Greek-Turkish border in the Evros region have put a greater strain on the porous coastlines of Greece?s islands.

Local officials in the northeastern Aegean say that there has already been a significant spike in the number of refugees and undocumented migrants that have landed on their shores from Turkey. Their concern is that this wave will grow as the civil war in Syria escalates and that they are ill-equipped to deal with such a large influx.

?We are scared of reliving past situations of hundreds of wretched immigrants arriving here in boats,? Lesvos Mayor Dimitris Vounatsos told Kathimerini. ?The detention center has been closed down and the municipality has no money to do anything about it,? he added.

The government earlier this month launched a police operation dubbed ?Xenios Zeus? to clamp down on illegal immigration by holding frequent identity checks and by fortifying Greece?s northern border with Turkey. In Evros the measure is said to be proving effective, as what used to be a daily influx of dozens has now trickled down to single digits. Yet, according to authorities, traffickers have switched to alternative routes into Greece and the European Union, via the islands.

According to Vounatsos, ?on Lesvos alone, there were 25 arrests made in July and by mid-August this number had more than doubled.?

?The situation is similar on Samos,? according to the regional governor of the Northern Aegean, Nasos Giakalis. ?Just last Monday, I was informed 40 people had been arrested after landing on the island in a rubber dinghy.?

Giakalis also expressed concern that the problem will grow. ?It takes 10 minutes to cross from Turkey to this part of Greece and drop off a boatload of illegal migrants,? he said after explaining that sorting the illegal migrants from the refugees is an insurmountable problem on the islands, which do not have the necessary infrastructure.

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