Greece to clear huge migrant camp ahead of busy tourist season


PIRAEUS, Greece – Greek officials have vowed to clear a huge makeshift tent camp at the port of Piraeus ahead of the busy summer season over fears that it could effect the country’s vital tourism industry.

Piraeus, currently home to 4,000 migrants, is the main port linking the mainland with the country’s vacation islands.

The move comes after Greece deported a second batch of more than two hundred migrants to Turkey on Friday under EU deal to stem mass migration.

Greek officials said two boats carrying 124 migrants – most of them Pakistani men – had been sent back across the Aegean Sea.

Earlier this week scuffles have broken out between migrants and police in the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border, with about 40 people – mainly men – pushing police and demanding that the borders be opened.

More than 11,000 people have been stranded in Idomeni, an impromptu camp on the border with Macedonia, for weeks after Europe closed its land borders to migrants and refugees last month.

In one incident a small group of activists leapt into the water at the port of Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos, clutching onto the anchor of the first ferry in an unsuccessful bid to stop the deportation, while a group of protesters chanted ‘EU, shame on you’ and ‘Freedom for the refugees’.

After arriving at the Turkish harbour town of Dikili, security officials escorted the downcast migrants, clutching blankets and with small backpacks on their shoulders, off the vessels.

A Greek government statement said the migrants included 111 Pakistanis, four Iraqis, as well as citizens of Bangladesh, India, Morocco, Egypt, and a man claiming to be of Palestinian origin.

One of the Pakistanis was not accepted by Turkish authorities at Dikili for undisclosed reasons and was returned to Lesbos, the statement said.

In a separate operation, another 97 people – mainly Pakistanis and Bangladeshis – were returned to Turkey via the land border, Greek police said.

The deportations are taking place under a deal between Turkey and the European Union, which is straining under the pressure from the unprecedented flood of migrants into its territory.

Turkey has promised to take back all irregular migrants entering Greece since March 20 while Europe has agreed to resettle one Syrian refugee directly from camps in Turkey for each Syrian deported.

The deported migrants arriving in Dikili underwent health checks and registration before they are due to be sent by bus to Kirklareli on the Bulgarian border, from where they are expected to be deported back to their home country.

The threat of deportation is aimed at discouraging people from making the often deadly crossing in flimsy boats.

Four migrant women and a child drowned Saturday off the Greek island of Samos in the first deaths in the Aegean Sea since EU-Turkey deal took effect three weeks ago.

‘Five people were saved but another five died, including four women and a child when their plastic boat capsized,’ a Greek Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

Coast Guard vessels were searching the water for another four people who had been on board the 3.5-metre (11-foot) boat when it capsized, she said.

The last time migrants drowned off the Greek coast was on March 14 when eight people went missing off the island of Kos.

It was the first time people had drowned while trying to reach Europe via the Aegean Sea since a deal between Brussels and Ankara to stem the human tide went into effect on March 20.