A sudden rise in migrant arrivals at the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, near the Turkish coast, over two days this week has raised concern with the coast guard and local authorities, as it is the highest-ever since the start of 2017.
A boat carrying 36 migrants and refugees on Wednesday afternoon raised the number of irregular arrivals at the island to 328 within the last 24 hours. What also concerned officials was that the 328 arrived in a spate of nine separate incidents along the north, east and northeast coast of the island.
From March 19 to 26, Lesvos saw 257 individuals arriving at its shores, Samos 32, and Chios none. From the beginning of March to March 26, 884 individuals arrived on Lesvos (327 in Samos, 58 to Chios). The Turkish coast guard’s online site listed 21 incidents for March to the 26th, turning back 802 people.
But between Tuesday midnight and 08:00 on Wednesday, 294 migrants and refugees arrived at Lesvos. Greek coast guard and the EU’s border police Frontex rescued drowning people in eight incidents involving inflatable dinghies. On Wednesday, local authorities expressed their concern for the first time, as the Turkish coast guard announced later on the same day that it had not had any migration incidents or intercepted any migrants at the Aegean Sea. Inflows to other islands remained low.
On Thursday, the Turkish coast guard numbers picked up again, with its site saying it had turned back 488 individuals in 12 incidents as of Wednesday afternoon.
The greater area of Mytilini, the island’s main city with 32,000 residents, is now housing according to official figures a total of 7,812 migrants and refugees, with 5,674 of these living at the Moria hotspot awaiting processing in facilities.
The low flows to Chios island seem to have been influenced by Turkish authorities’ more stringent controls on the Turkish coast closer to the island, through military police patrols that prevent vehicles packed with migrants from reaching the coast. It is believed that part of the flow has turned to the coasts closer to Lesvos, where controls are not as strict. Overall, in January Chios saw 179 arrivals, in February 47, and in March up to Thursday, 58.