Refugee, Migrant Arrivals to Greece Start Surge Again

Αssociated Press

FILE - Refugees and migrants are rescued by members of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, after leaving Libya trying to reach European soil aboard an overcrowded rubber boat, north of Libyan coast, Sunday, May 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

With the government planning to move some refugees and migrants to hotels and apartments to relieve overcrowding in detention centers and camps housing more than 64,000 of them, the numbers are picking up again as Turkey allows human traffickers to operate during a suspended swap deal with the European Union.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said by the end of September, 23,419 people had arrived in Greece, a 17 percent increase compared to the same period in 2017, the agency said in Athens, the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) said.

Another 560 people landed on Greek islands in the Aegean Sea in the first four days of October while the number of arrivals on the land border by the Maritsa River has doubled from 2017 with more choosing that route instead of the perilous journey across the Aegean to Greek islands, where more than 15,000 are in centers and camps human rights groups said aren't fit for humans.

In 2017, some 5,500 migrants crossed the border river to enter Greece, compared to 12,000 in just the first nine months of 2018, Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas told Parliament.

In recent days more than 2,000 migrants have been brought to camps in northern and central Greece, the Coast Guard said, while the numbers due to be moved from islands is also set to increase. There are more than 64,000 refugees and migrants in Greece, stuck in the country after the European Union closed its borders to them and other countries reneged on promises to help take some of the overload. The Greek government's goal is to reduce the number of arrivals waiting on the Aegean islands to 10,000.

In 2016, the EU and Turkey signed a deal to slow the number of refugees and migrants coming to Greece. They had gone to Turkey to escape war and strife in the Middle East, especially Syria's civil war. Turkey was promised 6 billion euros ($6.92 billion), faster track entry into the EU and visa-free travel for its citizens that's been in limbo.