Coast guard officers on the northern Aegean island of Lesvos expressed concern Tuesday at a spike in the number of undocumented migrants arriving on Greek shores in a rise that senior officials believes is the result of the war in Syria.
The union representing coast guard officers on Lesvos said more than 3,000 undocumented migrants landed on the island in March, compared to some 650 in the same month last year.
Between Friday and Sunday last week alone, the coast guard picked up 620 migrants trying to reach Greece in the waters around Lesvos.
A senior coast guard official told Kathimerini on condition of anonymity that authorities expect to pick up around 60,000 migrants trying to reach Greece by boat from Turkey this year, compared to around 40,000 last year due to the growing number of people fleeing fighting in Syria.
He suggested that there could be as many as 2.5 million migrants on Turkish shores waiting to reach Greece and the European Union and called for the government to spend more money on guarding Greece’s borders than on dealing with irregular migrants already within the country.
The government decided on Tuesday to set up a committee that will meet on Friday to discuss how to deal with irregular immigration. Coast guard officers on Lesvos claim that the coalition’s less strict approach to the issue has encouraged more migrants to travel to Greece in the hope of then reaching other EU countries.
The Greek coast guard rescued 51 irregular migrants early Tuesday after spotting the sailing boat they were traveling in off Cape Tenaro, at the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese. Two of the group were taken to the hospital.