Migrant influx a challenge, Greek minister says


Amid an increase in the influx of undocumented migrants from Turkey, Alternate Citizens’ Protection Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos, who is responsible for migration policy, has said that Europe’s migration problem is beyond Greece’s capabilities to handle independently. 

In comments to BBC Radio, Koumoutsakos suggested that an increase in arrivals on the Greek islands in recent weeks is not only due to the favorable weather but also to developments in the Eastern Mediterranean – notably Turkey’s illegal drilling activity off Cyprus and Ankara’s ties with the European Union and the US – though he did not elaborate. 

Koumoutsakos accused the previous leftist administration of creating a “closed system” of migrants and refugees entering the country without corresponding outflows as the section of the EU-Ankara pact regarding returns of migrants to Turkey was patchily enforced. 

Remarking on the government’s citing geopolitical reasons for the spike in migrant arrivals, SYRIZA’s shadow migration policy minister Giorgos Psychogios noted that center-right New Democracy had “come down to earth” after its critical stance while in the opposition. 

Conditions at the reception centers on the islands of the eastern Aegean are getting worse as hundreds of new migrants are arriving every day. 

On Thursday, at least seven boats arrived from neighboring Turkey, bringing a total of 297 people to Lesvos and Chios.

On Friday, another seven boats reached Lesvos, bringing another 325 people.

International organizations have highlighted the increasingly cramped conditions on Lesvos, which has received 70 boatloads of people this month that were carrying 2,700 people, half of whom are children.

Conditions are even worse on Samos, where more than 4,000 migrants live in and around a facility designed to accommodate just 650 people. Meanwhile workers at the facility speak of a rodent infestation and efforts are being made to find a way to exterminate the vermin without putting the migrants’ health at risk.

According to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos are currently accommodating 22,700 people at facilities that are increasingly overcrowded.

Of the migrants, 42 percent are from Afghanistan, 11 percent from Syria and 10 percent from Congo. Nearly half (43 percent) are men, 22 are women and 35 percent are children.