PIRAEUS — Greece has requested emergency European Union funding to protect its borders, with the financially-troubled country warning that fighting in Syria and Iraq has triggered a migration crisis.
Coast Guard officials said they expect a three-fold increase in the number of would-be immigrants and asylum seekers apprehended this year, compared with 2013, with more than half of people entering Greece now coming from Syria.
“The increase we’ve seen is concerning,” Marine Affairs Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said. “We can’t build a wall in the sea.”
Ministry experts, he said, estimated that more than 100,000 people are waiting to try and cross from Turkey’s coast into the European Union through Greece — a major transit point for migrants.
More than 17,500 migrants have been detained in Greece before Sept. 1 this year, with authorities expecting the number to top 31,000 by year’s end, compared with 10,500 in 2013.
The number of deaths this year reached 50, after police on Sept. 4 said they had found the bodies of two suspected migrants near a river that divides Greece and Turkey.
Greece has been given about 70 million euros ($91 million) in EU funds over seven years to buy Coast Guard equipment and receives support missions from EU’s border protection agency, Frontex.
But Varvitsiotis said it receives less than 3 million euros ($4 million) toward annual operation costs expected to reach 76 million euros ($99 million) this year — and is asking for additional funds of €63 million.
AP Writer Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed to this report.