Greece is being “overwhelmed” by illegal migrants surging across its land border with Turkey, with a local mayor warning the situation is “on the verge of spinning out of control”.
The country bore the brunt of the 2015 influx, which saw over 815,000 illegal migrants traverse the Aegean Sea in dangerous watercraft.
This figure was reduced to 30,000 in 2017 after the European Union persuaded the Turkish government to step up containment efforts following a multi-billion euro deal partly financed by the United Kingdom.
The major action then shifted from Greece to the so-called Central Mediterranean Route from Libya to Italy, but this, too, was brought under partial control in late 2017, after the Italian authorities began incentivising the Libyan coast guard to intercept smuggler-boats and cracked down on so-called “rescue” ships operated by pro-migration NGOs.
Germany’s new government went so far as the declare that the migrant crisis was over as a result of these developments — but its reignition on the Greco-Turkish border appears to have vindicated more judicious leaders, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who have warned it is just beginning.
"We are in the midst of a major European debate,” says Orbán. “The question is this: migrants or our own families?” https://t.co/F4GR48MJHs
— Jack Montgomery ن (@JackBMontgomery) May 26, 2017
In April alone, almost 3,000 illegal migrants penetrated Greece’s land border by crossing the Evros river in East Thrace — Turkey’s last remaining foothold on the European mainland.
This figure is equivalent to half the number of migrants who arrived in all of 2017, and Greek politicians along the frontier are warning they cannot cope with the strain.
“Our reception facilities are overwhelmed and things are on the verge of spinning out of control. Far more are coming than are actually being registered,” said Dimitris Mavrides, mayor of Orestiada, in comments to The Guardian.
“The government has just sent 120 extra police, but they are temporary and simply not enough.”
Mavrides believes people-smugglers and their customers have realised that the land border is a comparatively soft target, as it is not covered by the deal to cut Aegean crossings.
“In a boat it can take as little as three minutes to cross [the Evros] and is far cheaper [than the Aegean route],” he explained.
“They are coming precisely because it is not part of the deal and because word has got out… If they get here and are processed, they are free to go anywhere on the mainland.
“We have four buses a day to Athens and Thessaloniki and they are full.”
“Greece recorded 1,671 violations of its airspace by Turkish jets in 2016. To put that in perspective, NATO jets scrambled 780 times to intercept Russian aircraft, the highest level since the Cold War.
“A year later, the number of Turkish violations increased to 3,317.” https://t.co/gVFwZazxfz
— Jack Montgomery ن (@JackBMontgomery) April 15, 2018
The surge is thought to have been driven in large part by a Turkish military offensive in Afrin, northern Syria, with locals fleeing the NATO member’s oncoming forces.
This behaviour stands in stark contrast to the aftermath of successful offensives by the Russian-backed Syrian government, which tend to be followed by displaced locals returning to the recaptured territory in large numbers.
The Greeks believe that the sudden influx is no accident, and that the Turkish government — which has repeatedly threatened to allow millions of migrants to flood Europe if demands on money, visa-free travel, and progress on its EU membership application are not met — is deliberately loosening its borders in order to put pressure on European governments.
Rising tensions between Athens and Ankara’s increasingly erratic Islamist government are unlikely to be helping the situation, with the Turkish military stepping up violations of Greek airspace and territorial waters significantly.