As 2016 begins, migrant flow into Europe looks set to continue

ATHENS, Greece— Bitter cold, biting winds and rough winter seas have done little to stem the seemingly endless flow of desperate people fleeing war or poverty for what they hope will be a brighter, safer future in Europe.

See Full Article

As 2016 dawns, boatloads continue to reach Greek shores and thousands trudge across Balkan fields and country roads heading north.

More than a million people reached Europe in 2015 in the continent's largest refugee influx since the end of the Second World War — a crisis that has tested European unity and threatened the vision of a borderless continent. Nearly 3,800 people are estimated to have drowned in the Mediterranean last year, making the journey to Greece or Italy in unseaworthy vessels packed far beyond capacity.

The European Union has pledged to bolster patrols on its external borders and quickly deport economic migrants, while Turkey has agreed to crack down on smugglers operating from its coastline. But those on the front lines of the crisis say the coming year promises to be difficult unless there is a dramatic change.

Greece has borne the brunt of the exodus, with more than 850,000 people reaching the country's shores, nearly all arriving on Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast.

"The (migrant) flows continue unabated. And on good days, on days when the weather isn't bad, they are increased," Ioannis Mouzalas, Greece's minister responsible for migration issues, told The Associated Press. "This is a problem and shows that Turkey wasn't able - I'm not saying that they didn't want - to respond to the duty and obligation it had undertaken to control the flows and the smugglers from its shores."

Europe's response to the crisis has been fractured, with individual countries, concerned about the sheer scale of the influx, introducing new border controls aimed at limiting the flow. The problem is compounded by the reluctance of many migrants' countries of origin, such as Pakistan, to accept forcible returns.

"If measures are not taken to stop the flows from Turkey and if Europe doesn't solve the problems of the returns as a whole, it will be a very difficult year," Mouzalas warned.

Along the Balkan migrant route, an undetermined number of men, women and children considered economic migrants have found themselves stranded, their hopes of reaching prosperous northern EU countries dashed by recent border closures. Greece, with thousands of miles of coastline, is the only country that cannot feasibly block people from entering without breaking international laws about rescuing those in distress at sea.

"It's a bad sign, this unabated flow that continues," Mouzalas said. "It creates difficulties for us, as the borders have closed for particular categories of people and there is a danger they will be trapped here."

The number of those estimated to be stuck in Greece runs in the thousands. Mohammed Abusaid is one of them.

A baby-faced 27-year-old Moroccan electrician, Abusaid left home with dreams of finding work in Germany or even the United States.

Like tens of thousands before him, he made his way with a group of friends to Turkey and then braved the short but perilous sea crossing to the Greek island of Lesbos in early November.

From there, they headed north only to discover the Macedonian border was only open to those from war-wracked Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. The young Moroccans now spend their nights huddling for warmth in a tent beneath a straggly tree outside Athens' old airport.

"I'm living here like a tramp. But I'm not a tramp," Abusaid said quietly. "I'm single, my parents are old. I want to look for work. We don't cause trouble, we just want to work."

But Abusaid finds himself trapped in a country wracked by a five-year financial crisis that has left unemployment hovering around 25 per cent. Desperate, cold and hungry, two of his friends have opted for the voluntary repatriation scheme offered by the International Organization for Migration and are heading home in early January. Abusaid says he's pondering following suit.

But he still hopes to make it to northern Europe for a better life, and dreams of America. "I wish I could fly like a bird and go there."

Inside the old airport complex, a shelter has been set up in a former Olympic Games hockey venue but access is limited to vulnerable groups, particularly after theft, looting and fights were reported amongst groups of men.

"We realize it is very difficult for the new government to handle all these elevated numbers," said Chrysanthi Protogerou, director of the Greek Council for Refugees aid organization. "We were not well prepared and we continue not being well prepared. . What we would like to propose is to have better coordination, to make an even bigger effort, because the problem is becoming huge."

Battered on the one side by a massive wave of desperate people risking their lives to reach its islands and on the other by border restrictions, Greece is struggling.

"It's a situation to which we are being subjected without bearing any responsibility for it and without being able to control it," said Mouzalas. "Whatever measures we take here, if on the Turkish side the smugglers increase the flows, we can't cope. . We have a vast sea and countless islands. If a ground intervention occurs in Syria, we can't deal with this wave of refugees."

The problem, the beleaguered minister said, "is happening in Greece but it is a European problem and the solution must be a European one."

Nearly all new arrivals are aiming for wealthy northern European countries, with Germany and Sweden the favorites. Both stood out for trying to maintain a generous welcome even as numbers swelled, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously proclaiming "we will manage it."

Germany received about 1 million asylum-seekers this year and Sweden more than 150,000.

However, towards the end of the year even those two shifted course. Germany introduced border checks in September and Sweden in November. Sweden is now taking steps to keep people from even reaching the border and as of Monday will require passengers boarding Sweden-bound trains in neighboring Denmark to show ID. The crisis has strained relations between the Scandinavian neighbors.

Further down the migrant trail, refugees trickle steadily into Macedonia and Serbia, although authorities say numbers have decreased "drastically."

In a Serbian refugee center in Presevo near the Macedonian border, a baby wearing a yellow cap and oversized gloves blinked in the winter sun while a woman slowly combed a girl's long, black hair.

Although trains and buses are still crowded, Macedonia's border controls seem to be working.

"The number of migrants going through has drastically declined," said Presevo camp deputy manager Slobodan Savovic. "That means the numbers have more than halved when compared to September, when we had as much as 10,000 people per day."

____

Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Sweden, Marko Drobnjakovic in Presevo, Serbia and Raphael Kominis in Athens contributed.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Mexican mafia ran jail crime like an 'illegal government,' L.A. authorities say

    World News CTV News
    LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles jails are run by the county sheriff, but the Mexican Mafia wielded the power in the underworld behind bars. Authorities say they diminished the influence of the organization made up of leaders from various Latino gangs. Source
  • B.C. firefighters tackling new wildfires near Kamloops and Lillooet

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER - Firefighters in British Columbia have been called out to deal with a pair of new wildfires. The BC Wildfire Service says crews and aircraft are tackling a wildfire measuring about 50 hectares about 55 kilometres northwest of Kamloops and producing smoke that is visible in several communities in the region. Source
  • Newly released reports highlight chaos of Las Vegas shooting

    World News CTV News
    LAS VEGAS - Gunshots came so rapidly during the deadliest mass shooting in the nation's modern history that one Las Vegas police officer feared he was facing a fully stocked assault team with tactical gear. Source
  • Republicans to meet with intelligence officials on Russia probe

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON - House and Senate lawmakers are set to meet with top intelligence officials as U.S. President Donald Trump raises new suspicions about the federal investigation into his 2016 campaign. In recent days, Trump has been zeroing in on and sometimes embellishing reports that a longtime U.S. Source
  • North Korea slams 'ignorant' Pence remarks, threatens to scrap summit

    World News CTV News
    TOKYO - North Korea has renewed its threat to pull out of a summit next month with U.S. President Donald Trump, saying it is just as ready to meet in a nuclear confrontation as at the negotiating table. Source
  • Two killed after train plows into truck stopped on tracks in Italy

    World News CTV News
    ROME - A regional train plowed into a big-rig truck stopped on the tracks outside the northern Italian city of Turin late Wednesday, killing at least two people and injuring 18, authorities said. Rescuers worked through the night to make sure no passengers were trapped in the wreckage. Source
  • FBI works to thwart major cyberattack on Ukraine

    World News CTV News
    LONDON - The FBI has put a spoke in the wheel of a major Russian digital disruption operation potentially aimed at causing havoc in Ukraine, evidence pieced together from researchers, Ukrainian officials and U.S. court documents indicates. Source
  • North Korea renews threat to quit summit with Trump

    World News CBC News
    North Korea has renewed its threat to pull out of a summit next month with U.S. President Donald Trump, saying it is just as ready to meet in a nuclear confrontation as at the negotiating table. Source
  • 2,000 people forced from homes as 51 fires rage across Manitoba

    Canada News CTV News
    More than 2,000 people have been forced from their homes, at least 600 from the Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations, as dozens of wildfires blaze through Manitoba. There are 51 fires currently active in the province. Source
  • U.S. launches national security probe of vehicle imports

    World News CBC News
    The Trump administration on Wednesday launched a national security investigation into car and truck imports that could lead to new U.S. tariffs similar to those imposed on imported steel and aluminum in March. The Commerce Department said the probe under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 would investigate whether vehicle and parts imports were threatening the industry's health and ability to research and develop new, advanced technologies. Source