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Italy, Greece Straining Under Influx of Migrants

  • Zlatica Hoke

Conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East and other parts of the world are creating waves of refuges, ready to risk their lives to escape misery. Europe has been flooded with migrants and this year the number is expected to top last year's 170,000. More than 10,000 people arrived on European shores in the past week. Italy and Greece are primary destinations for migrants who hope to move on from there. Those who survive the arduous trek to Europe have some horror stories to tell.

Civil war in Syria has killed more than 200,000 people in the past four years, about half of them civilians.

"If we had stayed in the Middle East we would have died. You only die once in your life, we decided to risk dying trying to reach here," Mohammed, one of two 25-year-old twin brothers fleeing their native Aleppo, in northern Syria.

The brothers arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa earlier this week, exhausted but alive. In the past week, 400 died during the voyage from hunger, thirst and exposure in overcrowded and poorly equipped vessels.

But the price of the dangerous passage is not cheap. The Syrian brothers say they paid $3,000 to the smugglers.

"They took so much money from us and they locked us in a room for a long time, feeding us a bit of cheese and bread once a day. It was torture. We were verbally abused and insulted. Every day a different person would come in. We couldn't keep track. New people came in with their weapons all the time," said Ilya, the second brother.

Italian police this week arrested two Gambian smugglers spotted in the sea, ferrying passengers from Libya for an alleged price of $600 per person.

At least 12 Muslim migrants were arrested on arrival in Sicily after passengers accused them of throwing into the sea Christian migrants.

Despite the price and the danger, the number of migrants is growing yearly. Thousands that have arrived in Italy since last Friday have brought the Italian immigration system to collapse.

"Between the 10,000 people who came in Italy in the last weekend, there is about 319 single underages (migrants) who arrived in Italy here. There is not enough structure to give them assistance and they (the authorities) are looking to improve the conditions in Italy to give them enough assistance to make their permanence in Italy enough good for the moment," said Ahmed Echi, a volunteer at the Papa Francesco Migrants Center.

Greece is also the target of migrants from the Middle East and Africa. The country's new left-wing government is releasing migrants from the crude detention centers and allowing them to move freely around the country. The move is raising concern among many Greeks.

"Where are all these people going to stay? Where will all these people go? Where will they find a place to rest? Where will they find a job? With all the internal problems that we have, we can't solve our own problems,” said Babis Karagianidis, an Athens resident.

European Union officials say the numbers will likely grow during the coming months when the weather gets warmer.

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