Migrant arrivals to Greek islands jump to highest in weeks

August 30, 2016 5:15 AM EDT

Two women sit by a wire fence with laundry hanging on it, outside the disused Hellenikon airport, where stranded refugees and migrants are temporarily accommodated in Athens, Greece, August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Michalis Karagiannis


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ATHENS (Reuters) - More than 460 migrants and refugees arrived on Greek islands from Turkey on Tuesday, the highest in several weeks, despite a European Union deal with Ankara agreed in March to close off that route.

Greek authorities recorded 462 new arrivals between Monday and Tuesday morning, up from 149 the previous day. Most entered through the Aegean islands of Lesbos and Kos.

The numbers are small compared to the number of those trying to reach Italy from Africa -- some 6,500 migrants were saved off the Libyan coast on Monday, the Italian coast guard said -- and far fewer than the thousands a day arriving in Greece last summer.

Daily arrivals fluctuate, ranging from a couple of hundred migrants and refugees a day to just tens, but indicate a steady inflow five months after the deal with Turkey was agreed. Under the accord, those who cross to Greece without documents from March 20 will be sent back to Turkey unless they apply for asylum and their claim is accepted.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said it recorded a rise in arrivals toward the end of August but it was too early to say if there had been a change in trends.

"So far it doesn't look like that but we are following the situation very closely," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

According to UNHCR, an average 100 people a day arrived on Greek islands from Turkey in August, up from 60 in July. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said 2,808 people arrived in Greece through August 28, the largest monthly number since April.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the number of arrivals had been climbing in recent weeks and there were also signs of more migrants and refugees leaving Turkey for Bulgaria.

So far under the deal, just 482 people have been deported to Turkey but none had applied for asylum, Greece says. No rejected asylum seekers have been sent back.

That has pushed the number of migrants and refugees on Greece's islands to 12,120 from 5,538 in March. Most are Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, living in overcrowded camps.

More than 163,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece by sea this year, UNHCR says. In 2015, it was the main gateway into Europe for over 1 million people fleeing war and conflict in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

This summer has seen a sharp rise in mostly African migrants and refugees trying to reach Italy from the north African coast.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris in Athens and Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)



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