“Since July 7, there has not been a single day without arrivals,” the deputy minister for citizen protection Giorgios Koumoutsakos told the Greek daily Kathimerini. He warned the total number of migrants and refugees on five Greek islands located close to Turkey – Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros – “has exceeded 20,000”. Mr Koumoutsakos, who is in charge of migration policy in the new conservative government, added the number “constitutes an increase of 17 percent in a few weeks”.
Lesbos, the main point of arrival during the 2015 migrant crisis, has experienced an increase of 44 percent compared with the same period last year, he continued.
He said: “August 9 was one of the worst days during the summer period for Lesbos, as six boats with 250 people arrived.”
Mr Koumoutsakos also warned a new migrant “corridor” had been created by smugglers between the island of Samothraki and the northern mainland town of Alexandroupolis, located near the border with Turkey.
For Greece, a “frontline country which also serves as part of the bloc’s external border,” the problem of migratory and refugee movements is a “very difficult equation” to solve, he added.
He stressed the debt-ridden country had “exhausted its capacity on this issue and is looking forward to efficient cooperation with the European Commission and member states”.
Mr Koutmoutsakos did, however, thank the Commission’s incoming president, Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, for putting the migration problem “very high in her list of priorities”.
He also called for a reform of Europe’s asylum system, insisting any new mechanism should be based on “genuine and concrete solidarity”.
“Greece is looking forward to transitional European mechanisms, on the one hand, for a fairer sharing of the burden, and on the other, for a more effective return policy towards third countries,” Mr Koumoutsakos said.
In 2018, more asylum applications were filed on Lesbos and Samos than in Austria and Finland respectively, he said, adding there had been some 30,500 applications during the first half of this year alone.
Last month, eight EU countries formally signed on to a French-German initiative to cooperate in a burden-sharing “solidarity mechanism” and 14 assented to it.
“Europe isn’t a la carte when it comes to solidarity,” French President Emmanuel Macron, who spearheaded the initiative, told reporters.
But the new deal already faces bitter opposition from Italy’s populist, anti-migrant interior minister, Matteo Salvini.
Mr Salvini, who has repeatedly said Italy will no longer be “Europe’s refugee camp,” has barred humanitarian rescue ships from entering Italy’s ports, forcing NGOs to find another country willing to allow their boats to dock and bitter bartering among EU nations to divide up the migrants onboard.
Italy is a key route into Europe for economic migrants and refugees, with hundreds of thousands making the perilous crossing from North Africa each year and thousands dying at sea.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 400 people have died during attempts to reach Europe in the Mediterranean so far this year.