The International Organization for Migration reported Tuesday that more than 350,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa into Europe, with most landing in Greece and Italy. The number dwarfs the previous year’s, when only 219,000 migrants landed ashore throughout all of 2014.
The Agence-France Presse reports that 2,600 additional people have attempted the voyage and died, making the total number traveling out of North Africa even greater. Most have landed on the Greek islands of Kos and Lesbos; 234,778 migrants have landed in Greece. Another more than 100,000 landed in Italy, with small minorities reaching Spain and Malta.
In addition to migrants traveling out of the Mediterranean Sea, Greece is experiencing an influx of Syrian, Afghan, and other Middle Eastern refugees sailing out of Turkey across the Aegean Sea. It is largely overwhelmed by the number of migrants.
Greek newspaper Ta Nea reports that senior officials in Athens deployed two military squads to Kos and Lesbos to help control the thousands of refugees on those islands; the population of refugees on Kos is now larger than the population of the island itself. One senior official is quoted in the report as saying that “the situation has long since surpassed the capabilities of the country,” calling it “imperative” that the European Union and Turkey devise plans to regulate the flow of migrants.
As of now, it appears that Greece’s contingency plan is to get the refugees off of the islands. A fleet of ferries carried more than 4,000 migrants out of Kos and Lesbos on Tuesday, en route to Piraeus, a port near Athens. It is unclear what the government will do with the migrants once they arrive on the mainland, though other European nations are urging Greece to establish detention centers in which to properly document and catalogue the migrants as they enter the European Union.
That proposal has picked up steam with the UK, France, and Germany, who issued a joint statement Tuesday proposing the centers in both Greece and Italy. The centers would not only catalogue the people entering Europe, but refuse admission to those who are deemed economic immigrants and not refugees fleeing war or terrorism.
Rejecting immigrants looking to stay in order to find a place for the refugees of wars — particularly the Syrian Civil War and the post-Qaddafi quagmire — appears to be one of few solutions proposed for keeping populations at manageable levels for Greece’s resources. Currently, the situation in Kos has become particularly tense. In June, officials complained of being “overwhelmed” and “paralyzed” by the sheer number of people. By August, the mayor of Kos described the situation as “out of control,” with police having to use batons and fire extinguishers to control angry mobs of migrants who had been waiting hours to be processed by Greek officials.