6 November 2015
From Wednesday to Sunday last week, over 60 people died in the Aegean Sea in a series of dramatic shipwrecks during the crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, Kalymnos and Rhodes. On Wednesday alone, five shipwrecks were reported, the worst of which involved a large wooden boat carrying up to 300 people. At least 34 people were identified as missing. On the same day, 630 people were rescued in Greek waters. On Sunday, eleven refugees, including four babies, died off the coast of Samos.
This year has seen a remarkable increase in arrivals of people by sea, with the latest UNHCR statistics putting the number at 752,072 people, of which 608,970 arrived in Greece. Worsening weather and sea conditions are not stopping people, desperate to reach Europe, from attempting the dangerous passage, as they fear the imminent closure of some borders. On the other hand, smugglers are demanding more money for the crossing, as they now need to rely on larger boats, such as that which sank on Wednesday.
This week has also seen a first group of 30 asylum seekers being relocated from Greece to Luxembourg, following the start of “hot spot” operations in Lesvos on Friday 16 October 2015. This puts the total number of people relocated from Italy and Greece at 116, out of the pledged 160,000. The slow process undermines the very aim of the relocation mechanism, as it fails to take proper account of the needs of thousands of people arriving each day, seeking protection in Europe.
Moreover, the relocation process still relies on people reaching Europe; and as there are almost no legal ways to do so, refugees fleeing from dramatic situations in their home countries are forced to pay smugglers and undertake dangerous and possibly life-threatening journeys. On a number of occasions, ECRE has advocated for the opening of safe and legal channels to protection in the European Union. These include humanitarian visas, expansion of resettlement programmes and better family reunification policies.
For further information:
- ECRE, ‘Hotspot’ opens in Lesvos, but reports of conditions on the island remain worrying, 29 October 2015
- EUobserver, Greece relocates first asylum seekers, 4 November 2015