In the dark shadow of the debt crisis that has brought Greece to the brink of default, the country struggles to tackle another major challenge this summer — a record number of undocumented migrants and refugees.
About 156,000 immigrants have entered Greece in the first seven months of 2015, increasing fivefold over the same period in 2014, according to the latest official data from Greek Police. The overwhelming majority are 89,000 Syrians and 32,000 Afghans fleeing war-torn regions.
The situation on the islands is dramatic. Although Greece has been a transit gateway to Northern Europe over the past decade for migrants and refugees due to its geographical location, local authorities are unable to cope with about 600 arrivals per day on average this summer.
People arriving in rubber dinghies and aspiring for a better life in Europe are camping on beaches, parks, local stadiums and derelict hotels, next to tourists.
They were left without adequate medical assistance, food and water for days when queuing for the identification process to continue their trip to the mainland and then Western Europe.
The transit process has been proved to be complex and often lengthy, and the overall response system was unable to meet the rising needs of migrants.
Amidst the worst economic crisis in its history, Greece was called upon to function as a gatekeeper to the EU, while at the same time respecting migrants’ human rights. So far the results were dubious at best, Angeliki Dimitriadi, a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said in a paper.
As tensions have risen under the hot sun, the Greek government has dispatched a ferry and security reinforcements to the island of Kos this week, to accommodate a few hundred migrants and accelerate the registration process.
Yorgos Kiritsis, the mayor of Kos, warned of “tragic results,” if the central government and European partners do not provide immediately adequate assistance to the overstretched local mechanism to deal with the problems.
More than 7,000 migrants have reached Kos this summer, where 33,000 inhabitants live.
On the island of Lesvos, more than 4,000 migrants and refugees are waiting in similar inhumane conditions to embark on a vessel to Piraeus port, following their identification process. However, ships are fully booked until the end of August due to the peak summer tourist season.
“If there is no solution to the problem, there will be more than 15,000 people living at the port within a week,” Antonis Pikoulos, one of the oldest and more experienced travel agents of Mytilini city on Lesvos told the Greek national news agency AMNA.
Mayor Spyros Galinos also warned that the island is at “a breaking point” and requested additional emergency ferry routes. The local authorities and volunteers cannot deal with the crisis on their own.
The situation for migrants and refugees who have finally reached Athens did not improve dramatically, as the country does not have adequate facilities to accommodate them.
It took authorities more than a month to find a solution for about 500 mostly Afghan refugees who had camped in tents in a central Athens park. This week they were resettled to containers in another district in better conditions.
Greek Alternate Migration Policy Minister Tassia Christodoulopoulou has pledged that Greece will create hospitality centers for about 2,500 refugees by 2016. Currently the country can provide shelter and basic assistance to only 1,100 people.
The European Commission approved a few days ago about 470 million euros for Greece to assist efforts in tackling the influx of migrants. Similar funds will be disbursed to other Southern European countries facing similar problems.
In addition, the EU partners have promised to help relocate thousands of refugees from the South to other member states over the next two years. Enditem