Saturday 24 March 2018

A record number of desperate migrants entered EU in July

A migrant boy removes his lifejacket, moments after arriving on a dinghy with his family on the Greek island of Kos
A migrant boy removes his lifejacket, moments after arriving on a dinghy with his family on the Greek island of Kos

Mike Corder

The number of migrants entering the EU hit another record in July, with mostly Syrians and Afghans entering Greece from Turkey, according to the European Union's border agency Frontex.

Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri said yesterday it's "an emergency situation for Europe that requires all EU member states to step in." He urged the EU's 28 nations to provide more help for Greece and Hungary.

Frontex says 107,500 migrants were detected at EU borders in July - the third consecutive monthly record and the first time monthly entries have surpassed the 100,000 mark. Nearly 340,000 migrants were spotted at EU borders up to July, compared to 280,000 for all of last year.

Almost 2,350 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Six Syrian migrants, including an infant, drowned off the Turkish coast yesterday as they tried to reach a Greek island, a rescuer said.

The latest fatalities underscored the deadly risks taken by migrants making even short crossings to Europe in overcrowded smugglers' boats.

Three more migrants survived for hours in the motorboat's overturned hull, breathing air trapped in a pocket, before being rescued by divers, the emergency worker said.

Those who drowned were attempting perhaps the safest, shortest sea crossing in the risky journey to Europe, for the Greek island of Kos is only 4km from Turkey at its closest point.

Turkish coast guards unloaded five body bags at the harbour in the western tourist town of Bodrum as the rescued migrants, one man clutching his head in his hands, sat on the wharf. A rescue team later found the drowned infant's body, said a member of the Bodrum Sea Rescue Association.

The Turkish divers pulled a child and two men out alive from a sealed area of the capsized boat, a 9m motorboat, the rescue official said. Medical staff carried a wailing young boy, an oxygen mask around his neck, and a man to ambulances.

It was not the only rescue yesterday in the Aegean Sea.

About 20 other migrants were picked up by Turkish authorities and taken to the nearby town of Turgutreis. It was not clear what boat they had been on.

A Doctors Without Borders medical team heading for the Greek island of Leros chanced across a boat carrying 40 migrants, some of whom were in the sea, picked them up and took them to Kos.

Men hugged and kissed one another as the group, which included young children, reached land belonging to one of the European Union's 28 nations.

"It shows that there is a need to increase the capacities in the search and rescue operations here," Doctors Without Borders field co-ordinator Elisa Galli said.

Yet the numbers of migrants attempting perilous sea crossings to Europe continue to climb despite the risks.

Greece's coast guard said yesterday it rescued 576 migrants in 23 search-and-rescue operations off the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Agathonisi and Kos in the previous 24 hours.

Before that, Greece reported more than 135,000 arrivals from Turkey this year.

As of Saturday, Italy said another 103,000 migrants have been rescued at sea and brought to Italy.

Along with those landing in Spain and Malta, that means more than 243,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea so far this year, compared with 219,000 for all of 2014.

The International Organisation for Migration estimates at least 2,300 people have died this year trying to cross the sea to Europe.

Irish Independent

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