Refugee surge on Greek islands

DW — Aid groups are once again struggling to accommodate a rising number of people arriving on the Greek islands to request asylum. Despite heightened patrols in the Aegean Sea to deter smuggling activity between Turkey and Greece, about 3,700 refugees reached Greek shores in August and about 400 new arrivals have been recorded per week so far this month.

The recent spike in arrivals is mainly credited to seasonal weather patterns and calm seas, but some monitors on both sides of the Aegean have said the liberation of areas controlled by the “Islamic State” (IS) in Syria and Iraq may also be a factor as new refugees arrive in Turkey and head directly to Greece.

“Many new arrivals are coming from Syria and from cities that were previously under siege,” said Louise Roland-Gosselin, an advocacy manager for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Greece. “It’s difficult for us to know for sure where they are from … but this is what people are telling us as they arrive.”

Numbers fell sharply after the EU-Turkey deal, which was implemented in March 2016 to stop informal migration to European nations, and rose again only in October of last year before tapering off again and have remained relatively low ever since.

Though the current crossings are not comparable to the 10,000-people-per-day rates seen at the height of the EU refugee crisis back in 2015, recorded arrivals have been high enough in recent weeks to cause concern among aid groups. They report hazardous overcrowding in reception centers on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos and Leros.

Since the end of July, the number of people seeking asylum in Samos has almost doubled, said Bogdan Andrei, project coordinator for the aid group Samos Volunteers. The island’s sole reception center is designed for 700 inhabitants, but is currently hosting about 2,200 people, including 600 minors. Due to lack of space, new arrivals are pitching tents around the camp’s periphery and about 200 people have sought accommodation from charities and religious groups operating on the island.

Andrei, who has provided aid in Samos since last summer, said such overcrowding creates unhygienic conditions in camps and increases tensions among refugees, putting vulnerable families and individuals at risk.