Migration to Greece is Getting More Chaotic by the Day

Children play with rocks in Moria’s Olive Grove (Photo: Marianna Karakoulaki)

Although the tragedies near Italian shores have been in a more prominent spot in the media, migration to Greece is still going strong as it is the first EU member state many migrants arrive in: and now there is a new route, putting an even tighter grip on the system there. Meanwhile, FRONTEX’s capabililties have been deemed insufficient as an investigation came to an end about the accident near Pylos.

The Greek press has published a new article on the new migration route to the island of Crete and its surroundings.

According to multiple reports, smugglers started using the new route to the island of Gavdos (south of Crete, the southernmost border with the EU) and the coast of Crete last year. Currently, one in ten illegal migrants arrives on the coasts of Gavdos and Crete. In 2023, 798 migrants arrived in the region in 21 cases, and since the beginning of 2024, 634 migrants have arrived, from the coasts of Libya and Egypt respectively.

Migration Towards Crete: Naval Operation in Sight?

Reportedly, migrants have to pay USD 5,000 per person and are told by traffickers that they are going to the Italian coast.

Between the beginning of 2024 and February 11, 2024, a total of 5,032 people arrived in Greece by land and sea, 577 of them on the southern coast of Crete and Gados, representing 10.8% of illegal arrivals.

In the light of the above figures, government officials say a naval operation is needed, not sufficient to patrol the coast of the wider area of Crete.

The Coast Guard has drawn attention to the need for a complete overhaul of the way in which maritime borders are controlled, the strengthening of the Cretan Coast Guard’s fleet of submarines and the modernisation of its naval vessels. The coastguards’ union has issued a statement on the issue, warning of the problem and the under-utilisation of the services of the authority.

FRONTEX is Keen to Help, But is Legally Unable To

Also in Greece, the investigation concerning the tragic shipwreck near Pylos, Greece, came to its conclusion this February. The main point made by European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, is that the “current rules leave Frontex without the possibility to fulfil its obligations in terms of fundamental rights, while it is fully dependent on Member States to participate in searches to rescue migrants in distress at sea”. For this reason, O’Reilly is calling for a change in the rules on search and rescue, echoed Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini.

The investigation commenced following the Adriana tragedy in June 2023, where an estimated 600 people died.

As per the documentation of the investigation, although Frontex had offered its services to the Greek authorities four times by providing aerial surveillance of Adriana, the EU organization received no response. Without such a consent however, “Frontex could not be allowed to go to where the Adriana was at the critical moments, as it did not have the permission of the Greek authorities”, wasting precious time, and most certainly, human lives.

The investigation also showed that Frontex does not have internal guidelines to issue emergency signals (e.g. Mayday emergency calls) and that it is not ensured that the Agency’s fundamental rights observers can adequately participate in decision-making on maritime emergencies.

In a statement, the European Ombudsman stresses that “we have to ask ourselves why a vessel that obviously needed help never received it, despite the fact that an EU agency, the authorities of two Member States, civil society and private vessels were aware of its existence”.

The Communication recalls that Frontex includes a coastguard but its current mandate and mission clearly cannot cover such incidents. “If Frontex has a duty to help save lives at sea but lacks the appropriate tools, then this is clearly a matter for EU lawmakers,” it said. There is clearly an issue between Frontex’s fundamental rights and obligations and its duty to support member states in border management, the same statement said.

“Cooperating with national authorities when there are concerns about the fulfilment of their search and rescue obligations risks making the EU complicit in actions that violate fundamental rights and cost lives,” it stressed.


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