Greek Coast Guard Stops Refugee Boat Headed to Italy

(AP Photo/Michael Svarnias, file)

With the new New Democracy government scrambling to deal with a surge in refugees and migrants being sent to Greek islands from Turkey, more are trying to get to other countries, a boat with 36 and two alleged Ukrainian smugglers stopped by the Coast Guard.

With the islands holding more than 22,700 in detention centers and camps and frequent violence in the facilities that human rights groups said aren’t fit for humans, the refugees and migrants are looking for other places to go although the European Union has shut its borders to them.

Coast Guard officials said the vessel was stopped off Zakynthos heading toward the western part of the country in the Ionian Sea, apparently heading for Italy, media reports said from Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and Info Migrants.

That came after  486 people arrived from Turkey on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, according to official data. Turkey allows human smugglers to operate during a suspended swap deal with the European Union.

The refugees and migrants went to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their countries, particularly the civil war in Syria and violence in Afghanistan and Iraq. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned he would send 5.5 million of them to Greek islands and the EU unless he gets more concessions.

The refugee camps on the Greek islands near Turkey are overcrowded and asylum seekers face months of waiting for their applications to be processed, sometimes years and many have reportedly given up trying, as they could be sent back to Turkey if sanctuary is rejected.

The new Greek government said it would speed the processing of the applications but also deportations despite criticism from human rights groups and activists that those sent back could face even more hardships.

The Greek government moved 1,500 asylum seekers to mainland Greece following a sudden uptick in the number of arrivals, with more than 7,000 landing in August, the highest number since the swap deal was set three years ago.

The centers and camps are so overfilled that there are constant clashes between ethnic groups and with riot police called in to quell trouble with indications the trouble will only get worse.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 33,000 migrants have arrived in Greece since the beginning of the year, some 29,000 of them by sea, a pace that would exceed the two previous years combined, with the country the primary entry point.