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Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

  • Henry Ridgwell

The Turkish coastline is clearly visible from the beaches of Lesbos island in Greece. And it is from those shores that the migrant boats arrive day and night, with their human cargo packed tightly on board. Over half of them are Syrians escaping war — like Amro Hauydar, who fled his home in Idlib.

“We are suffering from bombs, from attacks, terrorists, the regime ... all of them want to kill us,” Hauydar said.

More than 101,000 migrants have arrived in Greece this year alone. They enter a country in the grip of economic crisis. Spyros Galinos, the mayor of Mitilini, capital of Lesbos, said it is a catastrophe.

"I have a bomb in one hand," he said, referring to the Greek government's debt, "and now they have given me another bomb in the other hand with the immigration problem. And I don’t know which will detonate first."

When the migrants eventually reach Athens, support groups say, the government provides little help.

“Normally, countries have asylum procedures that people who need protection enter into, [but that is] absolutely dysfunctional at the moment," said Gauri Van Gulik of Amnesty International. "So a lot of people are leaving Greece again. And that’s what leading to these problems on the western Balkan route that we have looked into.”

The western Balkan route leads from Greece through neighboring Macedonia, into Serbia and finally Hungary — a gateway to Western Europe. Amnesty has documented widespread illegal abuses.

There have been "automatic mass expulsions of people, just pushing them right back to Greece," Van Gulik said. "We’ve documented violence during those pushbacks, even shootings. We’ve documented beatings, severe beatings of migrants, including children.”

Bulldozers have begun clearing land along the frontier with Serbia as Hungary begins construction of a huge border fence to prevent the migrants from entering.

“People are effectively being sandwiched in, in countries which are abusing these people, these migrants and refugees," Van Gulik said. "They have nowhere to go.”

Meanwhile, thousands more migrants continue to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy. It’s feared up to 40 people died Wednesday when their boat overturned off the coast of Libya.

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