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Influx of refugees to Greece increases by over 200% in one year

08 October 2014 / 21:10:49  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The number of refugees arriving in Greece by crossing its sea borders in the eastern part of the Aegean has grown rapidly as compared to last year. From early 2014 up to the end of August 22,089 people arrived in the country, while last year the number was around 11,500. “In September alone, 8,000 people arrived”, said the President of the Greek branch of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, George Tsarbopoulos.

At a special press conference the representatives of the organization indicated that the influx of refugees will continue in the coming autumn and winter months, and therefore they warned that further measures need to be taken to support them.

Most of the people who arrive are refugees, and more than half of them are fleeing from the war in Syria. According to data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, only 4% of Syrian refugees have sought refuge in Europe, most of them heading to countries neighbouring Syria.

"They arrive in Europe through Greece, Italy and sometimes Malta, but do not want to stay there - they want to go to the North European countries. Some actions need to be taken at European level, in order for the burden of taking refugees to be distributed between the member states”.

Among the proposals of the Greek branch of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are: after rescuing the refugees at sea, they can be left at different ports; applications for asylum to be distributed in many countries; alternative ways to established for legal admission of refugees. These can be: direct displacement of people from the country of origin; issuing of special visas and connecting family members on European territory. One of the most effective measures can be the establishment of a European office in the countries from which refugees come, such as Turkey. Thus, they will be able to submit their applications for asylum directly there without taking dangerous transit through the Aegean.

Furthermore, the sea journey is highly dangerous. This is proven by the cases of drowning in the Mediterranean, which are above 3,000 this year alone.

The organization paid particular attention to the need to create first reception centres where refugees are registered, pursuant to the model one established in the Evros region. According to them, to date there are such centres only on the islands of Samos and Lesbos, and the islands where refugees arrive are many more. People accepted in these centres remain in them for no more than 25 days, during which their identity is established; people with problems and unaccompanied children are described, after which they leave. "But without a basis for further work with the refugees, these reception centres are insufficient", said Arianna Vassilaki from the UN High Commission for Refugees.

The press conference was attended by representatives of institutions that are involved in the work with refugees. In his speech, the Director of the First Reception Service with the Ministry of Public Order and Protection of Citizens Panagiotis Nikas said that it was because of the refugees’ desire to go to Northern Europe that the number of submitted applications for asylum in Greece is low. "At the same time, the European Union financed the establishment of bases for people filing such requests only", he said, adding that the currently applicable European legislation (Dublin II Regulation) does not allow for the solving of problems. According to him, among the objectives of the service is the creation of open reception centres that would accept all refugees, whether or not they have filed an application for asylum. Nikas said that attempts to create first reception centres on the islands are not always accepted kindly by the local communities, and in many cases it is difficult for a base to be found for their establishment.

According to the representative of the Greek coastguard, George Karageorgopoulos, 2014 is the third critical year with regard to guarding the sea border which is 2,200 km long and extends from Samothrace to Kastellorizo​​. He explained that service members guard against, as in recent years, 24 hours a day, the attempts of refugees  to enter Greek waters by boat, which are made at any time of the day or night. Karageorgopoulos confirmed the intensification of the refugee influx indicating that from 2012 to 2013 the number of people illegally crossing the sea border of Greece has increased 10 times, and during the period from 2013 to 2014 - by four times more.

Both Nikas and Karageorgopoulos said they would request emergency funding from the European Union and the Coast Guard would request cooperation at the operational level by Frontex in order to protect the border more effectively and to save people whose lives are in danger at sea.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations that assist refugees on the islands highlighted the pressing need for the establishment of first reception centres where they would be subjected to medical examination. "Today, this is neither envisaged, nor is it possible to implement in the existing conditions. For example, the centre of Samos has a capacity to take 285 people, but now there are 900", said Apostolos Vaizis from Doctors without Borders.

During the press conference a group of Kurds from the Syrian town of Kobani requested humanitarian assistance to the people who protect it against jihadists. Their representative Ibrahim Muslim said that the West should help, so that none of the residents of Kobani becomes a refugee. "None of them wants to come to Greece. Help, so that no one has to come here", he said.

Tags: Society refugees UN High Commissioner for Refugees Greek coastguard Doctors Without Borders
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