ATHENS — For the first time in 11 days, no new fatalities involving migrants were reported in the Aegean Sea, with good weather conditions on Saturday helping refugees safely make the short but often perilous journey from Turkey’s coast to the eastern Greek islands.
Even with favorable seas, Greece’s coast guard and European Union border agency Frontex rescued a total of 383 migrants in six separate rescue operations, authorities said. One of the boats was “in a difficult situation” while two others were “rudderless.”
“There have been (no fatalities) so far today, thank God,” a Greek coast guard spokeswoman said on customary condition of anonymity.
As people flee conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, European countries are struggling to cope with the heavy flow and hostility from anti-migrant groups. Many European Union members have been reluctant to take in significant numbers of migrants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined in her weekly video message the need for “a fairer distribution (of refugees) in Europe.”
Germany has seen 758,000 asylum-seekers arrive between January and October this year and this has resulted in a political backlash for Merkel.
The latest anti-immigrant rally, organized in Berlin by the Alternative for Germany party, drew 5,000 people shouting “Merkel Must Go!”
In southwestern Sweden, an empty building intended to house refugees was burned to the ground, the latest suspected arson fire to hit asylum centers or buildings being renovated for refugees. In recent weeks, the Scandinavian country has seen more than 20 arson attacks as an influx of refugees has surged. Sweden expects up to 190,000 asylum-seekers this year.
In neighboring oil-rich Norway, a non-EU member, Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said the government plans to reduce benefits for refugees up to 20 percent and introduce tighter immigration rules.
The ministry’s Facebook page warns would-be refugees they could be sent home if their asylum applications are turned down and that people who won’t leave Norway voluntarily “will be returned by force.”