Despite the European Union’s firm commitment to resolve the Mediterranean migrant crisis, Greece – one of the two main landing points for vessels carrying desperate refugees – is resorting to tough measures as thousands land on its shores.
On Wednesday, Greek Minister of State Alekos Flabouraris said that riot units and security reinforcements would be deployed to the resort island of Kos after tensions a day earlier flared into violence as police forced refugees into a football stadium where they were to be registered.
Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), who had been administering aid to the more than 2,000 refugees in the stadium, said that they had no food or water and were fainting from the heat.
Flabouraris said that a cruise liner with a capacity to house some 2,500 people would be used instead as a processing center for the thousands of refugees who continue to risk death and dehydration to cross from the Libyan coastline to Europe.
Many are from war-ravaged countries such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. Others from Egypt and Eritrea are fleeing economic hardship.
More than 120,000 boat migrants landed in Greece and Italy in the past six months, the UN says. More than 150,000 landed in Italy last year.
But other statistics put the number of refugees who arrived in Greece alone in the past eight months at 125,000 – a 750 per cent increase over the same period in 2014.
Both countries had for years appealed to the European Union to help relocate the huge numbers making it onto their shores.
The situation is particularly precarious for Greece, which until last week appeared to teeter on the brink of financial collapse as it tried to comply with EU austerity requirements in order to secure a debt bailout package.
The Greek Coast Guard says it rescued more than 1,420 migrant refugees over the course of 59 rescue operations last weekend alone.
Last week, Italian police arrested five North African Arab citizens accused of packing 650 migrant refugees into a small vessel which capsized off the Libyan coast.
Some 450 were rescued by Irish and Italian ships but 200 perished, officials in Rome said.
The European Union decided earlier this summer that a total of 60,000 refugees will be relocated from and settled in member countries over the next two years.
Some 40,000 will come from Greece and Italy.
The EU also decided to pursue traffickers, who earned millions from the illegal migrant journey across the Mediterranean,including using military action to destroy the flimsy vessels used in the illegal trade.
EU countries have also pledged to provide more funds and materiel – including added naval vessels and monitoring – to police the waterway.
The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies