As refugee exodus to Greece continues, some take Bulgarian route

Refugees rescued at sea by Bulgarian security forces on 13 January. [Bulgarian Border Police]

More than 1,000 refugees arrived at Greece’s biggest port of Piraeus near Athens yesterday (13 January) as the influx of refugees fleeing conflict zones for Europe continued unabated into the winter months.

Over a million migrants braved the seas in 2015 seeking sanctuary in Europe, nearly five times more than in the previous year, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency. Most entered through Greece’s outlying islands.

The EU is far from satisfied with Turkey’s cooperation in stemming the flow of migrants to Europe, following a deal clinched late last year, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans recently said.

>>Read: EU ‘long way from satisfied’ with Turkish migrant cooperation

So far this year, 31% of arrivals to Europe have been children, said medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières, which has been treating arrivals to the Greek islands.

>>Read: 26,000 unaccompanied children flock to Sweden over last 4 months

About 5,700 children crossed the narrow but dangerous sea passage between Greece and Turkey in just 12 days aboard rickety, overcrowded boats, it said.

“I leave my home, my country (because) there was violence, it was not safe,” said 18-year-old Idris, who left his home and family behind in Afghanistan three months ago, travelling alone through Turkey and hoping to reach Germany to study.

As others disembarked from the ferry on Wednesday, volunteers passed out hot tea and fruit to help them get through the next leg of their journey, an eight-hour bus ride from Athens to Greece’s northern border with Macedonia.

The ferry picked up a total of 1,238 migrants and refugees from the Eastern Aegean islands of Lesbos and Chios.

Among those was 25-year-old Salam, from the Syrian city of Homs, who said he had lived in a number of different cities before the fighting led him and his friends to flee.

“(They killed) women and children and men,” said Salam, who also hopes to reach Germany. 

From Greece, some of the migrants take the Bulgarian route. Yesterday the Bulgarian police announced it had saved 118 migrants from drowning in the Maritsa river (Evros in Greece). It is still unclear if they are of Syrian or Iraqi origin. All are without identity documents.

Traffickers brought the migrants by boats from Greek territory to Bulgaria and abandoned them. Police found them as they were trying to reach to the shore. 24 of them are men, 26 women and 68 are children, the Bulgarian TV channel bTV announced. Reportedly there are no unaccompanied children.

This is not the first time that migrants are intercepted through this route. Locals from the neighbouring village of Generalovo say that crossings occur on a daily basis. The rumour goes that traffickers charge migrants $1,500 per person to bring them from Greece to Bulgaria. 

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