While the numbers have fallen dramatically, the European Union border patrol Frontex has given the Greek Coast Guard a blimp for a four-week trial to track migrants and refugees trying to get into the country, almost always with the help of human traffickers in Turkey.
The crewless blimp is aimed at helping overwhelmed Greek authorities cut into unlawful immigration as well as help search and rescue operations in the eastern Aegean Sea where many migrants and refugees coming from Turkey have drowned after their rickety crafts sank.
Greece’s Merchant Marine Ministry says the 35-meter (115-foot) airship can fly as high as 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) and will be tethered to the ground on the island of Samos, which is close to Turkey’s coast.
The island is a major arrival point for migrants who travel by sea in small smuggling boats to reach Europe but wind up stuck in Greece as the EU has shut its borders to them, leaving them with no option other than to seek asylum in Greece, which can’t handle the applications.
A ministry statement issued Monday said the blimp will be equipped with radar and a thermal camera and be able to provide real-time, 24-hour monitoring of the surrounding sea. The migrants and refugees head to Turkey after fleeing their homelands in the Middle East to get away from war and strife and poor economic conditions.
Those deemed ineligible for asylum are supposed to be sent back to Turkey under the terms of an essentially suspended swap deal with the EU but only a relative handful have been returned. The EU dumped the problem on Greece, reneging on promises to have other countries in the bloc take in some of the overload.
The EU’s migration chief is Dimitris Avramopoulos, from the new ruling New Democracy government in Greece but he has done relatively little to help relieve the problem, saying he couldn’t force other countries to take some of the refugees and migrants and can’t take them to court because it’s too delicate a political issue for him.
There are more than 70,000 refugees and migrants in detention centers and camps, including more than 15,000 on Greek islands whose officials and residents pleas to the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA for aid went largely ignored.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)