With tens of thousands of migrants braving the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas for a change to live in Europe, a report from Greek newspaper Ta Nea puts the dramatic situation in perspective: 407 migrants landed in Greece, mostly traveling illegally from Turkey, in the past 24 hours.
Greece’s coast guard tells the newspaper that the migrants landed all over the islands closest to Turkey: Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Agathonisi and Kos. These islands mostly contain vacation resorts and are ill-equipped to provide the resources necessary to maintain these migrants, many who arrive sick or weakened by lack of food and water. The Greek coast guard has previously described itself as “overwhelmed” and “paralyzed” by efforts to find, rescue, and provide for migrants on their way to the country.
The United Nations sounded the alarm today for Lesbos in particular, famous for being the home of the ancient poet Sappho and possessing a lush natural setting and attractive beaches. Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency in Geneva, told reporters that about half the migrants sailing from Turkey to reach Greece were landing in Lesbos, while an average of 600 migrants were arriving in Greece a day– making the toll between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning below average. Lesbos was home to 7,200 illegal migrants in May, according to the latest numbers.
The desperate situation in Lesbos echoes concerns about the island of Kos, typically a popular vacation destination for a large number of Europeans. At its peak, the migrant wave brought 1,200 people to Kos in two days. Would-be vacationers have taken to travel sites to voice their concerns, complaining that the large number of homeless migrants was diminishing the appeal of the area for them. Such concerns from potential business patrons could significantly damage Greece’s already disastrous economy. Ironically, before migrants began flooding the Greek islands as recently as last March, experts were predicting the diminishing value of the euro would make Greece Europe’s number one destination for summer vacations, and in the process strengthen the Greek economy.
The European Union is urging member states less affected by the migrant crisis, such as Germany and France, to take in up to 40,000 migrants to lessen the pressure on Italy and Greece. “We put an ambitious proposal on the table for a relocation mechanism. We knew it would not win any prizes but we do expect the ministers… to take their responsibility,” EU migration spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said in Brussels this week.
Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos II echoed these sentiments this week, calling for European communities to help migrants settle: “The lives of immigrants in Greece is not only about Greece, but all EU countries.” The Archbishop added a bizarre aside claiming that Western countries, “with our actions, we force them to abandon their homelands,” creating a responsibility on the part of Europe to help them.
Greece’s legislature is currently working on a bill to grant citizenship to up to 100,000 migrants who have legally been in the country for a requisite amount of time. The bill is intended to send “a message of social inclusion and acceptance,” according to Alternate Minister for Immigration Policy Tasia Christodoulopoulou, but is attracting significant opposition given the nation’s current economic crisis. Representative Giorgos Georgantas of the center-right New Democracy Party warned the bill would send Greece “down a dangerous road.”