NEWS

Islet hit by migrant crisis

Authorities on the tiny Aegean islet of Agathonisi have warned of a crisis situation, as dozens of illegal immigrants who have arrived there from neighboring Turkey cannot leave due to strong winds that are also keeping ferries at bay as provisions run out. As winds reaching 8 on the Beaufort scale isolate the island and supplies dwindle, tensions have been rising as there is not enough food to go around, community leader Evangelos Kottoros told Kathimerini. The migrants, from various countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, number around 75, exceeding the islet’s permanent population of 70. «They are not violently disposed but there is an issue of survival. When people are cold and hungry, they don’t think straight,» Kottoros said. He said migrants from different ethnic groups had been fighting over who should be able to sleep in a small storeroom authorities have provided for them. Also migrants have been knocking on residents’ doors, asking for help. «Everyone has made an effort to help these unfortunate people but we are people too and we have problems,» Kottoros said. The community leader said he and the three policemen stationed on the island had warned of a crisis situation two years ago when the island started coming under pressure from an influx of illegal immigrants from Turkey. Sources said that Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos intervened yesterday and that efforts were being made to send a ship to the islet to remove the migrants. According to Kottoros, strong winds have not stopped smuggling ships from arriving on the islet. He said 351 migrants have arrived so far this year, compared to 43 in the same period last year. «What will happen when the weather gets better? Smugglers have realized that Agathonisi is unguarded and keep sending people,» the community leader said. Last summer, when Agathonisi was deluged with hundreds of migrants, Kottoros called on the government to supply it with its own coast guard so it could keep smugglers at bay. Authorities on nearby Patmos blocked the island’s ports to migrants last summer, increasing the influx to the smaller islet.