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Greek Coast Guard Goes on Alert Over Refugees Heading to Islands

February 22, 2024

ATHENS – An unusual winter surge in refugees and migrants trying to reach Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast – from where they came – has the Greek Coast Guard stepping up patrols to stop them.

Coast Guard chief Giorgos Alexandrakis went  to Mytilene on Lesbos to closely coordinate the response, that island being the most preferred by refugees and human traffickers from nearby Turkey.

Attempts to reach five Greek islands, where there are detention centers, usually lessen in the winter because of the weather and the often perilous seas that have claimed scores of lives when rubber dinghies and rickety crafts capsized.

There 18 incidents in a three-day period said Kathimerini, higher than expected as the Coast Guard was already on the lookout for the boats trying to get to the islands in hopes of gaining asylum.

They are coming from Turkey, where they went fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan but as far as Pakistan, Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa.

Most have been trying to reach Lesbos and Kos and the sudden spike is worrying authorities as Greece has been stepping up efforts to keep them out while denying accusations of pushbacks at sea and on land.

Some 400 refugees and migrants were detected after arriving on islands and six boats filled with them blocked before reaching Greek territorial waters, attempts being made on dangerously windy days in an apparent attempt to deceive Greece’s Coast Guard into thinking there wouldn’t be any attempts then.

Turkey had let the smugglers operate during an essentially suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union that has seen only a relative handful return after their asylum applications were rejected but now the two countries Coast Guards are cooperating

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