Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas conceded on Tuesday that he is “worried” about the significant increase in the flow of migrants and refugees to Greece observed recently.
Vitsas said that arrivals on Lesvos had increased almost fourfold since last year, noting that daily arrivals were 54 on average last year compared to the 206 migrants who arrived on the island on Tuesday.
Between January and April, more than 7,000 migrants and refugees arrived on the islands of the eastern Aegean, he said, noting that just 112 people were returned to Turkey during that same period.
However, Vitsas appeared far more concerned with the increase in arrivals over the Greek-Turkish land border, noting that 340 people crossed the border on Tuesday.
“I’m not scared about the islands because we know what we have to do. What is really worrisome is the huge increase through Evros,” he said.
Under pressure from the opposition over mistakes and omissions in the government’s current migration policy, Vitsas said that his ministry has prepared two plans to deal with the situation and pledged to outline their content to political party leaders in private.
According to Bulgarian government statistics, 356 migrants have crossed into that country from Turkey since the beginning of the year. In the same period, more than 2,700 crossed Turkey’s land border with Greece, Vitsas said.
There are fears that the difference in flows is due to deteriorating ties between Greece and Turkey while relations between Sofia and Ankara are good, particularly since Bulgarian authorities returned alleged supporters of the US-exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey in 2016.
Security along Turkey’s border with Bulgaria has intensified since then.
The opposite has been happening along the Greek border since the detention of two Greek soldiers who strayed across the border in early March. Greek border guards are now more cautious, and less inclined to crack down on migrants.
According to Greek border guards, police stations are full as large numbers of migrants continue to cross into Greece overnight.