Greek Navy Joins Immigrant Patrol

ATHENS – With the Coast Guard unable to cope with the rising tide of illegal immigrants trying to sneak into the country by sea, the Greek Navy will join the fight.

The Navy has put two gunboats and a frigate to the task of trying to stop immigrants who continue to come, many from Turkey, in a desperate bid for a better life, even though many drown when rickety and overcrowded craft capsize or sink.

The patrols are concentrating on attempted infiltration as well from Africa and with people fleeing the Syrian Civil War as well as conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East.

Merchant Marine Ministry officials said providing aid to the Coast Guard, which has been accused of pushing back immigrant boats, was discussed in a meeting between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the ministers of Defense and Merchant Marine, Dimitris Avramopoulos and Miltiadis Varvitsiotis.

The initial plan had been to put all six of the Navy’s gunboats at the coast guard’s service. They were to display Coast Guard insignia so their presence in the Eastern Aegean could not be construed as an act of aggression by Turkey, Kathimerini said it was told.

However, it was finally decided that two gunboats and a frigate would be used, for now, with two Coast Guard officers assigned to each.

The beefed up security operation is being paid by the government, not the European Union’s border protection agency Frontex. Greece has complained bitterly that the EU does too little to help Greece, the southernmost entry point into the bloc and the first destination for most illegal immigrants.

Frontex’s budget for Greek operations has fallen 40 percent between 2010-13 as immigration inundation has increased and the country has also been trying to deal with a crushing economic crisis.

A recent request by Public Order Minister Vassilis Kikilias for extra EU funds to bolster Greece’s border security was rejected by European European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom after she had approved 3.4 million euros from the EU’s Internal Security Fund.