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Greece Appeals to EU for Help in Handling Migrant Influx

FILE - A Greek coast guard officer, wearing a mask for fear of infectious disease, stands next to a small group of immigrants on a launch carrying them to shore from a crippled ship holding more than 700 people at the coastal Cretan port of Ierapetra, Greece, Nov. 27, 2014.

Greece's government appealed to the European Union on Wednesday for help handling undocumented migrants after the number of landing on its shores more than tripled in the first three months of the year.

“It's a problem we can't solve by ourselves,” State Minister Alekos Flabouraris told Greek TV. “Europe is obliged, if it wants to show that it is a European union ... to offer a solution.”

Like other EU countries on the Mediterranean, Greece has seen a huge increase in the number of people trying to enter Europe in boats from Africa.

Hundreds died when their boat capsized off Italy on Monday night.

More than 10,000 landed in the first three months of the year, compared to 2,863 in the same period last year, the Greek coast guard said.

The migrant influx is a further problem for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as he battles to avoid a Greek bankruptcy.

The government rushed out a crisis plan on Tuesday to deal with the problem, which it attributes to the worsening conflict in Syria. It includes measures to transfer new arrivals from the islands to centers on the mainland and granting asylum to Syrian refugees who meet the criteria.

The government has also closed one center after a suspected suicide and released migrants into the center of Athens, drawing criticism from parties across the political spectrum.

“It's shameful that the government is unprepared, even on long-standing issues,” Stavros Theodorakis, leader of the center-left To Potami party, said from the island of Lesvos, which has received 4,500 undocumented migrants so far this year.

“Red alert,” the Ethnos newspaper wrote on its front page on Wednesday above a photograph showing dozens of migrants sitting in the street outside the coast guard building on the island of Leros, their clothes left to dry on trees and bushes.