Tougher action on migrants

Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis yesterday announced a raft of measures, including stricter patrols of Greece’s sea border with Turkey, in a bid to tackle a rising wave of immigrants entering the country illegally. Illegal immigration is a «complex problem… affecting the whole of society,» Voulgarakis said. In a bid to improve Greece’s response to the growing problem, the ministry will equip the coast guard with additional staff and patrol vessels. Voulgarakis also pledged to boost international cooperation in order to break the human-trafficking rings profiting from would-be migrants arriving on Greek shores. Interaction between the ministry, the police and the coast guard will be stepped up and a concerted effort will be made to uncover port authority officials collaborating with trafficking rings, Voulgarakis said. According to ministry figures, port authority officials have detained 6,186 would-be migrants so far this year, compared to 3,456 during the whole of last year. Of the 6,186 arrested this year, the overwhelming majority – 5,957 – were intercepted along Greece’s sea border with Turkey. The most popular route for immigrants heading for Greece by sea starts south of Crete, near Libya, and ends up on the Turkish coast, opposite Lesvos, Voulgarakis said. From there, most migrants board a second boat bound for a Greek island. The minister also reiterated calls for European Union support in view of Greece’s vulnerable position on the EU’s external border. Greece has offered to head a joint European Union coast guard. Voulgarakis also stressed the importance of better cooperation with neighboring Turkey, which reportedly is sending coast guard officials to Greece next month for talks. Greek port authority officials have long accused Turkey of ignoring a bilateral pact for the repatriation of illegal immigrants while Turkish officials accuse their Greek counterparts of forcing migrants back to the Turkish coast.