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Island coast guards, port authorities to meet with minister over refugee crisis

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Representative of the coast guard and port authorities of the Greek islands on the country’s eastern sea border that are struggling with a dramatic spike in the number of migrants and refugees trying to get into the European Union from Turkey, are expected to meet on Tuesday with Shipping and Island Policy Minister Theodoros Dritsas.

According to sources cited by state news agency AMNA, the key topic on the agenda will be staff transfers to ensure that the islands facing the biggest influxes are adequately manned as well as a request from officers with children not to be transferred from their home bases.

Speaking to AMNA, officers were critical of a decision in 2012 to construct a fence on Greece’s northern land border with Turkey, saying that the barricade diverted inflows to the islands, putting the lives of migrants at risk as well as stretching the capabilities of the coast guard in those areas.

They also warned that increasing pressure to manage thousands of arrivals every day is having a negative impact on the physical and mental health of staff, as well as causing extensive wear and tear to the force’s fleet, which, officers say, is inadequate to meet growing demand.

Data collected by AMNA show that they are currently 164 officers serving on the island of Lesvos, one of the key landing areas for tens of thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing strife in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Samos is supposed to have 83 personnel and is currently operating with 61 and Kos is operating with 50 officers instead of the required 71. Leros, Rhodes and Kalymnos are also short of hands, the data show.

Meanwhile in a related development, over 2,500 refugees arrived by ferry to the port of Piraeus on Tuesday morning from Lesvos and Chios as part of an ongoing effort to relieve some of the pressure on the islands by transferring the arrivals to mainland Greece. The majority continue their journey heading north, to cross the borders of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria into eastern and central Europe, with Austria and Germany as their final destination.  

In the last 24 hours, officers said, there have been 582 rescues in 17 incidents of sinking vessels around the islands of the eastern Aegean.