NEWS

Island told to pay for coast guard

Authorities and residents on the tiny Aegean islet of Agathonisi, which has been swamped by illegal immigrants from neighboring Turkey, are up in arms following the apparent reluctance by the Merchant Marine Ministry to finance a local coast guard facility, it emerged yesterday. In a letter from the ministry’s projects department dated March 31, but which reached local authorities only this week as the island does not have a postal service, responsibility for the establishment of a depot is shifted to island authorities. An extract of the letter reads: «Please let us know immediately whether the community of Agathonisi would be able to cover the cost of renting premises, the necessary equipment (furniture, computers, air conditioning etc) as well as operating expenses (electricity, water, telephone).» Two weeks later, and after failing to receive a response, the same ministry department reportedly sent another letter to authorities on Agathonisi, asking them to provide the ministry with an estimate of the operating costs of a local depot but not offering to cover these costs. Sources at the ministry yesterday told Kathimerini that the island’s community leader, Evangelos Kottoros, had been informed about the new letter. But, speaking to Kathimerini yesterday, Kottoros said he knew nothing about the latest letter, adding that the crisis on the island has been long in the making. «I first sensed the risk in 2007 and have since asked a series of ministers to help us set up a coast guard facility on the island,» Kottoros said, adding that ministry officials had visited Agathonisi last year to discuss the problem. He said the island authorities did not have the financial capacity to cover the depot’s operational costs. «What do they want – residents to leave the island?» Currently migrants reportedly make up half the island’s permanent population of 150, though in summer, when human-smuggling activity peaks in the Aegean, there were several hundred illegal visitors camped around the islet.