There was a drastic decrease in the number of migrants and refugees crossing into Greece over the past weekend, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) staff in the country said on November 24.
On November 22, just 155 migrants arrived on the Greek islands by sea. Of these, 79 arrived in Kalymnos, 44 in Megisti and 24 in Lesvos. The remainder arrived in Chios and Kos.
The drop, which appears to be linked to crackdowns linked to the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13 2015, is significant given that, according to IOM estimates, about 100 000 migrants have crossed into Greece since the beginning of November – averaging about 4500 crossings a day.
There have also been no migrant fatalities in Greek waters since November 17, when the Hellenic Coast Guard recovered the remains of nine people – a man, four women and four children. Seven people were rescued and two young boys remain missing, presumed drowned. IOM said that 585 people have died on the Eastern Mediterranean migration route since the start of 2015.
November as a whole has seen 14 of 23 days in which no deaths at sea were reported, making this the safest month since August, when there were 13 days with no fatalities recorded. By contrast, September had only nine days without a fatality, and October just 10.
Meanwhile, the Emergency Exit Camp, which is located at Greece’s border with Macedonia, has exceeded its capacity, following a decision by the Macedonia to allow only Syrians, Afghanis and Iraqis to cross the border.
The atmosphere at the border is tense and Iranian migrants are reportedly trying to prevent crossings by Syrians, Afghanis and Iraqis. Some have also sewn up their lips to protest the closure.
IOM estimates that the number of migrants not allowed to cross the border rose from 400 on Thursday morning, to 800 by Friday morning and 1,300 on Saturday morning. By Sunday morning there were between 1500 and 2000. The main nationalities included Iranians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Moroccans.
Migrants from Morocco told IOM observers they flew to Istanbul in order to cross into Greece.
Macedonia officials report that they have recorded the arrival of large numbers of migrants from these four countries since January 2015. The largest group are Iranian. About 6231 have been registered since the beginning of the year. The same period saw the arrival of about 5400 Pakistanis and more than 2000 Palestinians. Large numbers of Nigerians, Congolese, Lebanese and Algerians have also been recorded, according to Macedonian authorities.
About 150 migrants stranded at the border have returned to Athens by taxi or bus, according to IOM staff. But others are reportedly still trying to cross the border illegally at other locations. Republic of Macedonia border police are under orders to stop them.
Meanwhile in Italy, bad weather conditions and the arrival of autumn storms are behind another drop in migrant arrivals. Compared with the first three weeks of October, when a total of 5342 migrants landed in the country, during the same period of November a total of 1708 migrants were rescued at sea and brought ashore.
“This is a decrease that does not surprise us, as it is normal to register a drop of arrivals in November,” said IOM Italy spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo. “The big difference compared to last year is the change in nationalities of the migrants. Most Syrians are no longer coming to Italy, as now they mainly reach Europe through Greece.”
(Photo: IOM staff rescue migrants from an overturned boat on the island of Kos. IOM)