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Greek Coast Guard Steps Up Sea Patrols to Block Migrants

Ευρωκίνηση

FILE - Photo by EUROKINISSI.

After closing its land borders to refugees and migrants, Greece has extended controls to the seas too, with the Hellenic Coast Guard adopting “aggressive surveillance” to keep them from landing on islands, after an earlier video showed officers pushing one boat full away.

With no move yet to get a floating fence that was being mulled to be put part-way around the island of Lesbos, that is holding some 20,000 refugees and migrants, the plan instead is aimed at stepped-up patrols in the Aegean as a deterrent, which has mostly worked to slow the influx from Turkey, said Kathimerini.

That country is holding about 5.5 million refugees and migrants, including some 3.3 million from Syria’s civil war but has allowed human traffickers to keep sending them to Greek islands during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.

The Coast Guard picked up its presence after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late in February sent 10,000 migrants to the land border along the Evros River and urged them to get into Greece, which responded by closing its side and sending riot police and Army units to stymie any attempts to get across there.

After Erdogan pulled them back, there were fears he would try sea routes instead and might even put them on cargo ships instead of the small, rickety overcrowded craft and rubber dinghies traffickers have been putting them in for four years.

Since April 1, the Coast Guard said it had stopped 17 attempts by smuggling vessels to approach Lesbos and other islands, with one operation lasting 24 hours, ending when the Turkish Coast Guard eventually intervened and escorted the migrants back to Turkey.

Over the past 10 days leading up to May 6, more than 50 Hellenic Coast Guard vessels were sent to the eastern Aegean, along with 10 Navy vessels and 24 land, air and sea craft provided by the European Union’s border monitoring agency Frontex.

The patrols are expected to keep up until at least July 6, with expectations that warmer summer weather and calmer seas might entice more refugees and migrants to try to take the often perilous journey to Greek islands, scores having drowned previously.