Greece stops dozens of migrants en route to Italy

Turkish and Greek coast guards patrol the Aegean Sea | Photo: picture-alliance/AA/A. Balli

A boat with 36 migrants and two alleged Ukrainian smugglers was intercepted by Greek coast guards on Monday. Because the camps on Lesbos and other Greek islands overcrowded, more migrants are trying to reach Italy with the help of smugglers.

The Greek coast guard on Monday stopped a boat with 36 migrants on the way to Italy and arrested two suspected smugglers, both Ukrainian nationals.

According to the coast guard, the vessel was stopped off Zakynthos, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea close to the western Greek coast. Authorities were determining where the migrants came from, the coast guard said.

Over the weekend, 486 people arrived from Turkey on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, according to official data.

The refugee camps on the Greek islands near Turkey are overcrowded and asylum seekers face months of waiting for their applications to be processed. This is why migrants have begun to attempt to reach Italy by employing smugglers, either on the islands themselves or directly in Turkey.

Moving migrants to mainland Greece

Last week, the Greek government moved 1,500 asylum seekers to mainland Greece following a dramatic rise in the number of migrant arrivals on Lesbos and other Greek island in recent weeks. More than 7,000 migrants arrived in Greece irregularly by boat in August, the highest number in three years.

Subsequently, scuffles broke out at the overcrowded Moria reception camp on Lesbos after 300 unaccompanied minors demanded to also be taken to the mainland. Greek police fired tear gas at the children. There were no reports of injuries.

Sea arrivals in Greece up

In 2015, more than one million had passed through Greece, the beginning of the ‘Balkan route,’ on their way to Europe’s prosperous heartland. The numbers have dwindled since border controls were tightened across the region in 2016 and the EU and Turkey agreed to stem the inflow of people with the EU-Turkey deal.

In recent months, however, the Balkan route has seen an increase in the number of irregular border crossings. The reasons for the accelerated rate of arrivals is unclear.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 33,000 migrants have arrived in Greece since the beginning of the year, some 29,000 of them by sea.

With that, the number of sea arrivals in 2019 is on track to surpass the 2018 and 2017 numbers. Last year, 32,500 migrants arrived – the year before, 30,000.

This year, Greece surpassed Spain as the leading entry point to Europe. Together, the two EU countries currently account for roughly three out of four arrivals.

With material from dpa