Island embraces migrants

After keeping most of them aboard the cargo ship on which they were trying to sail from Turkey to Italy for over a day, Greek authorities yesterday allowed almost a thousand illegal immigrants to disembark on the island of Zakynthos. Families were put up in hotels while single men were to be sheltered at a gymnasium. Islanders rushed to get food and clothing to the exhausted migrants. The Turkish-flagged Brenler was towed into Zakynthos harbor early Monday after coast guard officers aboard a passenger ferry got close to it in a storm and managed to attach a rope to the ship which had lost its engines. The decision to allow the migrants off the 50-meter Brenler was made after Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis flew to the Ionian island yesterday afternoon and met with the local governor and other officials. The minister also met with his colleagues from the ministries of Health, Public Order, and the Interior. The government said, however, that it would probably send the immigrants back to Turkey, which it called on to assume its responsibilities. The Turkish authorities must adopt Greece’s proposals for an agreement, especially on allowing the return of illegal immigrants, government spokesman Christos Protopappas said. The two countries have been discussing such an agreement but it is not clear when it may be signed. Protopappas ruled out the possibility of any of the people on the ship being granted refugee status. The Turkish-flagged ship is believed to have set sail from Izmir a week ago, packed with over a 1,000 people – mostly Iraqi Kurds, some Pakistanis and Afghans. Authorities arrested seven people on suspicion of being involved in the migrant smuggling operation. They were being questioned by the coast guard yesterday. The authorities sprang into action immediately, Zakynthos’s provincial governor, Dionysios Gasparos, told Kathimerini. From 5 a.m. on Monday when we were informed that there was a ship seven miles from our shores we got the local government machinery moving to create reception areas and to organize them, he said. We chose an indoor basketball stadium and created a reception area. Immediately people began to bring food, clothes, blankets. The behavior of the people of Zakynthos was very moving. In a few hours our store rooms were filled with the necessary supplies. The situation aboard the Brenler was desperate, with the migrants crowding the small ship for a week, Gasparos said. It was the first time in my 25 years as a doctor that I saw such a situation. Children aged between 10 days and 16 years old were dehydrated, with no sanitary conditions… That is why all the women, children and ill people were immediately taken (on Monday) to the hospital and then to the reception center. Of them, 30 men, 16 women and five children were kept at the hospital for treatment, he said. The total number of this initial group that disembarked was 300, while 10 of the 16 women were pregnant. Another doctor, Philippos Olympitis of Doctors of the World, added: The situation was beyond description… Fortunately, the reception by the people of Zakynthos was wonderful. When the ship came into port, the people on the dock applauded! They quickly brought all necessary goods and their offerings were very moving. For example, a baker brought 700 sandwiches, while a quarter of the reception area was covered by the clothes that everyone brought. The good thing is that no illnesses were found among the illegal immigrants. The local authorities have asked for the migrants to be kept on the island for no more than 15 days and Anomeritis promised that decisions would be taken next week. Coast guard chief Andreas Syrigos ordered an inquiry into television footage showing a migrant washing the boots of a member of the guard’s special forces, in what appeared to be a case of an officer abusing his authority. The Merchant Marine Ministry announced later that the man had been ill and had vomited on the officers boots and then offered to clean them. Peace demo. Thessaloniki labor, local government and non-governmental organizations are holding a protest against the war on Afghanistan this afternoon in Aristotelous Square.

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