ATHENS – With waves of illegal immigrants still trying to enter Greece via sea routes, Coast Guard officials have been unable to get enough officers and seamen to island posts to handle the overload.
Greek officials said Turkish smugglers are continuing to bring migrants to Greek islands near the Turkish coast and complained the European Union has done too little to help. Greece is the closet point of entry for migrants from the Mideast and Africa and scores have drowned trying to make the journey in rickety, overloaded boats.
Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis recently offered members of the Coast Guard incentives to transfer to these islands but when the deadline for applications expired Aug. 1 only 18 officers had declared an interest in moving.
Nine asked to serve on Rhodes, three on Leros, two on Aghios Efstratios (Ai Stratis), two on Lemnos, one in the overall Dodecanese area and one on Skopelos.
As a result of the low interest in the scheme, the ministry decided to extend the deadline by 10 days. It hopes that more members of the Coast Guard will step forward in the coming days. It wasn’t explained why they just weren’t assigned there without their consent.
Coast guard officers serving in the northern Aegean told Kathimerini that there has been a spike in the number of migrants trying to reach Greece by sea over the last 18 months. However, they saw a dip over the last few weeks due to the Muslim month of Ramadan.
“It has been relatively quiet over the last few days but I believe it is the calm before the storm,” said one officer who preferred to remain anonymous.
The Coast Guard, which human rights groups have complained has conducted unlawful “push backs,” of immigrant boats to Turkey, conducted two operations on Aug. 1 to to rescue stranded migrants.
In the first, 25 immigrants were helped out of a boat northeast of Agathonisi. In the other, 34 people were pulled from a motorboat that began taking on water near Samos.
The previous night, officers picked up 17 migrants in a vessel near the Imia islets. A 31-year-old suspected human trafficker was arrested.