As one route for undocumented migrants into Greece closes, people smugglers have begun to target Greek islands, piling illegals into boats on the Aegean.
Since Greece made a concerted effort to tighten the border crossing of choice for illegal immigrants who use the country as their entrance to Europe, the islands are now taking the strain. Ekathimerini reported that in the last week the number of migrants stopped at the Evros border crossing in north eastern Greece has plummeted, dropping from 447 on August 2 to just two on August 24 and 25.
Figures cited by Frontex, the EU border protection agency, showed 20,841 illegals were caught after using the Evros crossing in the first six months of 2012. This accounted for almost all of illegal entrants into Greece, with few opting for an island entrance. Migrants chiefly comprised Afghans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.
Traffickers have now turned their attention to the Aegean islands, smuggling in Afghans, Syrians and Palestinians from Turkey to Symi, Farmakonisi, Samos and Lesvos. Earlier this week 40 migrants were stopped on Symi, 39 on Farmakonisi, while 40 landed on Samos on a rubber dinghy.
The islands are ill equipped to deal with the mass influx of migrants they warily anticipate, with particular concerns that a flood of Syrian refugees will be smuggled in from Turkey. The Mayor of Lesvos, Dimitris Vounatsos told Kathimerini “We are scared of reliving past situations of hundreds of wretched immigrants arriving here in boats. The detention center has been closed down and the municipality has no money to do anything about it.” Funds to municipalities are to be slashed in the latest round of austerity cuts.
As more illegals arrive operation “Xenios Zeus”, during which police arrest and detain illegal migrants, is set to continue until the end of the year, though detention centres are woefully inadequate to deal with the number of detainees.
Athens is currently lobbying the EU to reconsider Dublin 11, by which other European countries can return illegal immigrants that entered the EU through Greece, back to Greece. However, Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias told Parliament that talks looked unlikely to remove the burden from Greece's shoulders.