Municipal authorities on the Aegean islands impacted by the increasing influx of refugees are once again calling on the government to take immediate and viable measures to address the issue in the aftermath of a fatal boat sinking last week.
At least 12 of approximately 50 people, including children, lost their lives on Saturday, when the boat they were using to reach Greek shores sank in the Ionian Sea near the island of Paxi.
Search and rescue operations are ongoing, the Greek coastguard said, adding that they had rescued over 21 survivors thus far. Last week, the Greek coastguard saved 73 persons in the Aegean. The Greek coastguard said earlier today, that three suspected human traffickers – among the rescued – were arrested with investigations continuing.
Early last week, municipal and regional authorities from the North Aegean islands, which have been overwhelmed by the soaring numbers of arrivals, said they would proceed with joint actions if relief measures were not implemented immediately. Participating in the decision were mayors from Chios, Samos, and Lesvos – islands which have borne the brunt of the refugee inflows since the start of the crisis in 2015.
According to Greek media reports, island authorities are demanding support measures, including funding and additional administrative, health, and protection services, and are calling on cities in mainland Greece to contribute in the hosting efforts.
In a recent Central Union of Municipalities in Greece (KEDE) meeting, its president Dimitris Papastergiou said the refugee issue was “complex” and “cannot be resolved overnight”, adding that KEDE would seek immediate emergency funding for island municipalities on the receiving end of the refugee flows and will request a meeting with the relevant ministries to “clarify the role that municipalities will play in this process”.
Since 2015, Greece has been inundated by thousands of refugees and migrants trying to enter illegally on small, overloaded boats from the coast of neighboring Turkey.
According to UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, more than 74,482 refugees and migrants made their way into Greece in 2019.
Meanwhile, government authorities are expecting over 100,000 people to arrive from Turkey in 2020.
Acknowledging the severity and impact of the crisis, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said last month that Greece needs assistance from international organizations as well as from fellow EU member states.
At the start of the year, Greece enacted a new asylum law aimed at accelerating the application procedure. Under the law, asylum applications submitted by individuals in vulnerable groups or from countries with high asylum recognition rates will be given priority.