In Greece, migrants and smugglers take more perilous routes

Two lifeless bodies were found in the open sea, Wednesday, December 29, by the coast guard near Tinos, an island in the Cyclades archipelago. Several days after the sinking of a sailboat on December 24 off Paros, these two men in their thirties were identified according to the testimonies of the survivors as part of the passengers of this ship that left Turkey for go directly to Italy. At least 18 asylum seekers – Syrians, Kurds, Palestinians – have died, but several dozen are still wanted.

Already on December 22 and 23, two other incidents off the island of Folegandros and near Antikythera, in the southern Peloponnese, led to the drowning of at least 14 refugees. “While the chances of finding survivors are slim, we fear that between 46 and 71 people have lost their lives during these three shipwrecks”, notes the NGO Mare Liberum. In 2020, 102 exiles lost their lives in this area of ​​the Mediterranean. In 2021, the number of missing is expected to be over 80.

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Folegandros, Antikythera or Paros are not the usual destinations for migrants. But these successive accidents testify to the attempt of the smugglers to bypass the patrols of the Greek coast guards and the European agency Frontex which effectively surround the islands close to Turkey such as Lesbos or Samos. Above all, they want to avoid refoulements, a practice contrary to international law which consists of not registering asylum seekers in Greece and forcibly returning them to Turkish territorial waters. Between Turkey and Italy, there have been more and more direct passage attempts, even with larger boats, as was the case in October with a ferry carrying nearly 400 passengers. Boats are often dilapidated and migrants are crowded together, often without life jackets. The crossing, which can take more than two days to reach Italy, costs almost 9,000 euros.

“They leave from the big ports”

According to Nikolaos Kokkalas, spokesperson for the Greek Coast Guard, around 130 ships with nearly 13,000 migrants tried in 2021 to reach Italy from the Turkish shore, via the Aegean Sea and southern Crete. . “These big ships don’t leave deserted beaches, like some small inflatable boats that try to come to the Greek islands. They leave from the big ports, which shows that Turkey does not have the control that it should have in its own ports. When 80 to 100 migrants get on a sailboat, it cannot be done without the Turkish authorities seeing it ”, denounces the Greek Minister for Migration, Notis Mitarachi.

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