24-Hour Immigration Service Not Enough to Process Thousands of Migrants on Greek Isles

Argiris Mantikos/Eurokinissi via AP
Argiris Mantikos/Eurokinissi via AP

The Greek island of Lesbos, typically a popular European vacation destination, has received such a prodigious influx of refugees attempting to enter Europe by crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey that immigration offices on the island are remaining open 24 hours a day to process them, and are still woefully behind on the procedure.

The BBC reports that Lesbos police have told reporters their offices are open around the clock, processing about 300-500 migrants a day. Immigration officials are “absolutely overwhelmed,” the network quotes its reporter as stating. Most of these migrants are from war-torn places like Syria and Afghanistan, so the processing is essential to Greece’s national security, as police must confirm that they are, indeed, civilian refugees and not Islamic State jihadists disguised as refugees to further a terrorist plot in Europe.

Even after refugees are processed, their papers will grant them only a one-to-six-month stay in Greece, meaning many of those in the offices are back for reprocessing. Those awaiting to be confirmed legally in Greece are spread out around ad-hoc tent communities on the island, creating an unsightly scene for tourists looking to escape their daily routine and enjoy a happy time abroad.

The BBC notes that 1,600 people landed illegally on Lesbos on Saturday alone. The United Nations noted at the end of June that more migrants had entered Greek territory in June than they had throughout the entirety of 2014, when 12,187 migrants arrived; 15,000 people arrived in Greece in June– about 18% of the population of Lesbos.

As Greece is a member of the European Union, migrants seeking to escape ISIS-controlled territories in Syria and Iraq seek to leave Turkey for Greece to begin a new life in western Europe. They rarely aspire to stay in Greece, given that nation’s woeful economic situation and more than 25% unemployment rate, but many remain stuck on its islands, as it takes their life savings–often between $1,000 and $10,000–to leave Turkey.

In addition to creating a problematic situation for the governments of Greek islands, the Greek Coast Guard has been stretched thin by rescue operations precipitated by the use of unsafe vessels to reach Greece. On Tuesday, a large ship capsized in the Aegean Sea, where rescues continue as at least 15 people reportedly remain missing. At least one person has died, reports Greek newspaper Ta Nea, and 21 have been rescued. Up to 40 people were on the ship, rendering it unsafe. In addition to this ship, Ta Nea notes that 14 incidents have been reported in the Aegean Tuesday.

While tourism in the Greek islands–among the strongest industries in the troubled nation–has remained somewhat stable, the migrant crisis has troubled many who have booked vacations in the region. “It is very sad. It goes through my heart for those people and the children who are hungry. … On the other hand, it’s my vacation and that’s not nice to see,” Dutch tourist Marianna Kuipers told the Associated Press.

Greek officials are reporting, however, that many have not canceled their plans to visit Greece, despite migrants and the developing debt crisis. “Even after the referendum of July 5th, travel agency customers have not abandoned their travel plans or canceled their stays,” a statement by the German Tourism Federation stated this week. An estimated 250,000 German nationals alone are expected to travel to Greece on holiday this summer.


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