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Greece sees big increase in illegal immigrants

Published on October 24, 2009

Athens -- Greece has seen a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of migrants arriving via the Aegean Sea, the European Union's border agency Frontex said on Tuesday.

A total of 14,000 illegal sea arrivals were recorded in the first six months of 2009, up 47 percent on the equivalent period last year, Frontex deputy director Gil Arias Fernandez told a news conference.

"You can’t control 3,000 islands in the Aegean," Arias Fernandez said.

Greece has the longest coastline in Europe at 13,676 kilometres (8,500 miles) and over 2,000 islands in the Aegean Sea, the agency said.

Overall, the country in 2008 accounted for almost half of the European Union’s illegal border crossing total — both land and sea, Frontex said.

The Greek maritime border accounted for 59 percent of all EU detections at sea, the agency said.

Arias Fernandez party attributed the problem to lack of cooperation from Turkey which has a decade-long readmittance protocol with Greece.

"It would be nice if Turkey collaborate with us, as long as Turkey doesn’t collaborate, it’s difficult to tackle the problem," the Frontex official said.

Most of the immigrants and asylum-seekers arriving by sea claim Palestinian, Afghan and Somali nationality but follow-up checks show otherwise, he noted.

"Out of 800 claimed Palestinians we found only two after interview procedures," Arias Fernandez said.

Operational since October 2005, Frontex has been tasked with patrolling 42,000 kilometres (26,000 miles) of the EU’s sea borders and 8,800 kilometres of land frontier.

Sixty percent of its budget, which was increased this year to 71 million euros (105 million dollars) is geared towards maritime operations.