November 24, 2019
ATHENS – As Greece’s government, trying to keep out refugees and migrants steps up patrols in the Aegean – with 10 more speedboats donated to the Coast Guard by shipping tycoons – more are turning away from the risky water journey to Greek islands and turning toward crossing from Turkey across the perilous Evros River area.
The refugees and migrants had gone to Turkey first, fleeing war and strife in their homelands, using that country as a jumping-off point to get to Greek islands to seek asylum after the European Union closed its borders to them.
With the concentration on the Aegean, residents of villages and towns near the river at the Turkish border are protesting the new arrivals and those in Komotini, Alexandroupoli and Didymoteicho in Thrace plan to demonstrate at the Kipoi crossing on the Greek-Turkish border. Organizers say the rally will also include a human chain, said Kathimerini.
According to local reports, the recent surge of migrants in the area is attributed to a rush to cross the Evros before heavy winter sets in and water levels rise with scores of people having drowned trying to cross there since the refugee and migrant crisis began in 2015.
The latest data show that in the last month alone 1,525 refugees and migrants and 72 traffickers were arrested in Thrace, the paper said, adding that those who get across successfully either over the river or by land are moving in small groups.
They are said to be traveling overnight in the direction of Thessaloniki, either on foot, in smugglers’ vehicles on the Egnatia Highway or on the railway as Turkey continues to let traffickers operate during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union which has seen only 2,000 returned and Greece now hosting more than 96,000.
In a statement, the Police Officers’ Association of Rodopi said that migrants use technology to avoid central roadblocks and many move through remote rural areas, “causing disruptions to residents who do not know their intentions.”
The organizers of the rally claim that crime levels have also risen with the new arrivals they said are stealing food off trees and farms and damaging fields, trees and crops and causing losses in revenue.
Sources who weren’t named told Kathimerini that trafficking gangs congregate at the border with Turkey and hire Bulgarian, Moldovan, Iraqi, Syrian, Moroccan but also Greek and North Macedonian smugglers to transfer migrants and refugees into Greece.