EU border chief Fabrice Leggeri
Brussels - The EU border agency is boosting its operations in the Mediterranean near Greece as increasing numbers of migrants try to enter the European Union from Turkey, the Frontex chief said.
“We are worried about the situation in Greece and that’s why we will upgrade our action there and our support to the Greek authorities,” Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri told the Associated Press in a May 14th interview.
More than 10,000 people have been rescued from the central Mediterranean in recent weeks after attempting to enter Europe from Libya on overcrowded, unseaworthy boats. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that nearly 1,830 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, compared to 207 in the same period in 2014.
“There is a shift from the central Mediterranean to the eastern Mediterranean” as more migrants leave Turkey by sea and land, Leggeri said. “They are moving very quickly, so we have to be flexible.”
Police in northern Greece on May 14th said 93 Syrian migrants were freed from a locked cargo train carriage after being tricked by smugglers into travelling in the wrong direction.
The number of Syrians reaching Greece surged in the past year as the civil war in their country continues into a fifth year. Many make the short trip from Turkey’s southwest coast towards the island of Lesbos, 9 kilometres away, in inflatable rafts. From there, they often try to board ferries and move further north into Europe.
Others choose to travel by land through western Turkey and across Greek or Bulgarian borders, where the Frontex presence is also being stepped up.
Leggeri also said planes and ships, including British, French and Portuguese vessels, promised for Frontex’s Triton Operation to patrol waters off Italy were arriving. The border agency plans to significantly boost its presence on the Mediterranean from June to September, the high season for migrant crossings.
“We have already increased by 50% in terms of assets deployed and by June we will be able until September to triple the number of boats,” he said.
Triton has no mandate to carry out search-and-rescue work but has rescued thousands of people by deploying ships where they are required by international law to respond to emergency calls.
Triton has ten patrol vessels, three offshore patrol ships, three aircraft and two helicopters at its disposal.