Return of the Migrant Crisis: Greece Cracking as Illegal Sea Crossings Triple

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SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images

The number of illegal migrants landing in Greece, numbered in the hundreds of thousands at the height of the migrant crisis, is surging upwards once more.

While the massive inflow of illegal migrants to the impoverished European Union member-state, hundreds of thousands strong, was slowed — if never entirely stopped — by a multi-billion-euro deal between the EU and Turkey, tens of thousands have remained on its Aegean islands, destroying local tourism and burdening the already struggling country at large.

Now, however, with Greece’s aggressive neighbour having suspended both a bilateral agreement and an EU-level agreement on migrant readmissions, it appears that the floodgates are being gradually reopened, with The Times reporting that migrant landings have tripled in recent weeks.

The surge in migration, which had shifted first to Italy and then, after anti-mass migration populist Matteo Salvini’s elevation to the Italian government to Spain in the years after the Greek route was brought under a semblance of control, appears to be causing the already overburdened Greek islands, in particular, to crack. Migrants have spread in around fifty camps spread across the islands, the Greek mainland, and the country’s northern borders and are looking set to swell to 100,000 people.

Where once illegal arrivals were averaging 60 a day, now they average 278, with almost 22,000 thought to have crossed the sea so far this year, according to The Times — and more are penetrating the country via the land border with East Thrace, Turkey’s last foothold in Europe after long centuries of Ottoman conquest and reconquest.

The Greek government has long accused Turkey of relaxing its borders so migrants can surge into Europe as a tool of punishment and manipulation in wider geopolitical battles over EU membership and the control of resources around contested islands and northern Cyprus, which it has illegally occupied since the 1970s.

“[T]he Turkish president [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] controls the flows toward Greece and, by extension, to the European Union,” complained an offiical at the Greek Citizens’ Protection Ministry in April 2018.

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