The European Commission said refugee and migrant arrivals to Greece from nearby Turkey soared nine times higher in March compared to a year earlier with 15,457 people arriving by sea to Greek islands and overland on the countries’ northern border.
The Commission’s migration chief is veteran Greek politician Dimitris Avramopoulos from the major opposition New Democracy Conservatives, who has not forced European Union countries who closed their borders to refugees and migrants to honor pledges to help relieve Greece of an overload of 64,000.
That includes more than 15,000 on Greek islands sent there by human traffickers that Turkey lets operate during a suspended EU swap deal in which only a relative handful have been returned.
The refugees and migrants, hoping to reach more prosperous EU countries flee to Turkey to get away from war and strife in the Middle East or economic problems there and in Africa. Most of those in Greece are seeking asylum and being held in detention centers and camps that human rights groups said are not fit for them.
The EU said even the rising numbers are far below the hundreds of thousands or more than a million during the peak of the crisis in 2015, a year before the deal with Turkey, which was offered six billion euros ($7.09 billion), visa-free travel for its citizens and faster-track entry into the bloc it’s been seeking since 2005.
Avramopoulos said progress on containing the refugee flow from both Turkey and places in Africa was satisfactory but that more money and personnel were needed without explaining why he hasn’t sent either or both and as violent incidents in the camps on the Greek islands are growing.
“In the last years, important progress has been made both within the EU and with our partner countries,” said Avramopoulos, adding, “However, the situation is still fragile and our work is far from over.”
“I call on member states to urgently send border guards and equipment for the European Border and Coast Guard operations,” he said, adding that the EU’s border agency Frontex now has only 1,500 border guards for all the routes refugees use, less than half what is needed to cover the area, including now along Greece’s borders with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).