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Within the space of just two years, the Greek coast guard has saved the lives of 10,000 immigrants

04 September 2014 / 21:09:06  GRReporter
2661 reads

Simona Peneva

"Over the past eight months a dramatic increase in the influx of illegal immigrants in Greece has been reported, their number being particularly high in August," as announced by Minister of Merchant Marine Militiadis Varvitsiotis at a press conference for foreign journalists accredited in Athens. He stressed that Greece has recently been in a tense situation as the budget for the security of the maritime borders is spent and the European Union has not granted additional funding.

The situation in Libya and Iraq as well as the escalating crisis in Syria and Gaza has made the highest contribution towards the increase in the number of asylum seekers in Greece, which is expected to further increase. Greece's geographical position makes it easily accessible from many countries, by land and by sea. "The third world countries want to come to Europe. Greece, being part of the European Union, is an opportunity for them to settle in it or to simply pass through it because it is a transit country," said Ioannis Karageorgopoulous, director of public safety and international police cooperation. 

This is the reason why the majority of the refugees immigrate by boat, which leads to frequent accidents due to the lack of basic safety equipment, overloading the vessels with people, or  unsuitable weather. The number of accidents officially registered this year, up to now, has been 97. In some cases, such boats are used to transport smuggled goods too. The fine upon the capture of such a vessel is over 1,500 euro. From 2012 to 2013, the accidents increased by 214% and arrests by 55%. In January 2012, the number of arrested people was 379 while in 2014, only until August, it was 6,300. The number of immigrants rescued by the Greek authorities in 2012-2014 was 10,000. A large immigrant influx in the islands of Chios and Samos had begun even in 2012. Up to date the majority of the refugees have migrated along the eastern Aegean Sea. Over 50% of the refugees in the Greek seas are from Syria. Over the past three years, the level of immigrants from Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan has been high as well. It is an interesting fact that most of them do not want to stay in Greece and just pass through the country to go on to another European destination. Of 14,000 Syrian refugees, 95% do not want to settle in Greece and have not applied for asylum.

"We are concerned about the fact that, according to unofficial information, an influx of 1.5-2 million immigrants from third world countries is expected next year. All of them want to go to Europe," said Ioannis Karageorgopoulous. The Greek coast guard works hard to prevent the accidents. Nearly 2,500 new employees have been employed, more boats have been purchased, around 35,000 hours were spent in patrolling and about 0.5 million kilometres were travelled by sea. The Greek coast guard works with the Greek fleet that helps in emergencies, with the Greek army that helps find the immigrants, with the Greek air forces that assist in the rescue missions and with the Greek police that act when the immigrants manage to cross the border by boat and the authorities apprehend them on land.

"We need to repair and replace some of the boats of the coast guard. We have several types of boats. There are boats that move only along the coast, boats that go further out to sea and boats that have special equipment and sail long distances. All of them require a lot of money," said Ioannis Karageorgopoulous. The amount paid for such repair services in 2012 was 593,659 euro and in 2014, it was 4,623,658 euro. For the period 2007- 2014 the ministry received 71,000 euro for new equipment. Frontex, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, provided 3,246,392 euro to Greece in 2010. This amount has been decreasing each year, while the influx of immigrants has been increasing at the same time.

The investment plan that the Ministry of Merchant Marine will follow during the period 2014-2020 includes integration of a maritime surveillance system, operational sustainability and improvement of the equipment and facilities. In 2015, the Greek coast guard expects new patrol vessels. "It is very important to secure money for the camps where immigrants are provided with food, shelter and medical assistance. We take care of the rights of these people. Their passing through the Aegean is very dangerous. 357 rescue missions were registered last year. 172 people had an accident last night alone," Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis also specified. According to him, in the past, immigration occurred only at night whereas it now takes place twenty-four hours a day.

The Minister expressed certainty in two things, namely that, on the one hand, Greece’s borders will not be left without supervision and will be guarded to ensure the safety and security of the country and, on the other, that the coast guard will continue to save the lives of immigrants in danger. "So far we have been harshly criticised by the European Commission. However, 99% of our initiatives are successful but even that remaining 1% concerns us and we consider it," said the Minister.

The refugee camps along the eastern Aegean coast do not have good conditions. Recently, two immigrants living in such a camp on the island of Chios suffered second-degree burns because they had been exposed to the sun for a long period of time.

Tags: Illegal immigrantsRefugeesAegean SeaGreek coast guardthe situation in Libya and Iraqthe crisis in Syria and Gaza
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