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Thousands of Migrants Remain Stranded in Greece
   2016-01-01 19:26:32    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Guo Jing

People sleep in Victoria Square, where migrants and refugees have been staying, on December 27, 2015 in central Athens. [Photo: CFP]

More than a million refugees and migrants reached Europe in 2015, most of them came from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's the continent's largest refugee influx since the end of Second World War, and is a crisis that is testing European unity and threatening the vision of a borderless continent.

As 2016 dawns, boatloads of desperate people fleeing war or poverty continue to reach Greek shores.

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

The 27-year-old electrician, like tens of thousands before him, 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.

But from there, they discovered that the Macedonian border was only open to those from war-wracked Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.

Abusaid and other young Moroccans are now trapped in a country wracked by a five-year financial crisis that has left unemployment hovering around 25 percent.

"Greece has many problems. The papers from Greece are for 30 days. When the 30 days are over, the police will catch all the people from Morocco, Algerians, and they are putting them in jail. All the people are looking for work, and there is no work. I will think very seriously about going back to Morocco."

Greece has witnessed more than 850,000 people reaching the country's shores this year, nearly all arriving on Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast.

Greece's minister responsible for migration issues, Ioannis Mouzalas, said it is Turkey that is unable to respond to the duty and obligation it has undertaken to control the flows and the smugglers using its shores.

"What I mean is, whatever measures we take here, if on the Turkish side the smugglers increase the flows, we can't cope with it. If suddenly instead of heading to Mytilene in August they head to Rhodes, we can't pre-emptively have set up identification centres on all the islands. We have an immeasurable sea and countless islands. If a ground intervention occurs in Syria, we can't deal with this wave of refugees."

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.

Several countries are concerned about the sheer scale of the influx, introducing new border controls aimed at limiting the flow.

Director of the Greek Council for Refugees, Chrysanthi Protogerou, admitted that it is very difficult for the new government to handle the increasing numbers.

"We were not well prepared and we are still not well prepared. We do not know which are the practices and policies that will be followed in the near future. Eventually some thing may change, we will see. What we would like to propose is to have better coordination, to make an even bigger effort, because the problem is becoming huge."

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says in its latest report that the number of refugees and economic migrants landing on European shores after crossing the Mediterranean has officially crossed 1 million this year.

The new arrivals this year, primarily fleeing violent conflict in parts of the Middle East and North Africa, mainly made landfall in Greece, while just over 150,000 did so in Italy.

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.

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