Migrant surge overwhelms Greek islands

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Exhausted men sleep near the town of Madamados after their arrival with other migrants and refugees on a rubber boat from Turkey, at Lesbos Island, Greece. (AP Photo)
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57-year-old Pargoul Rahmani makes bread at a makeshift bakery in the overcrowded Moria refugee and migrant camp, Lesbos island, Greece. (AP Photo)
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Tombstones marking the graves of migrants and refugees who drowned at sea while crossing from nearby Turkey are seen at a cemetery near the village of Kato Tritos on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece. (AP Photo)
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People use the public wash area, in front of a pile of garbage bags at a makeshift refugee and migrant camp next to the overcrowded Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. (AP Photo)
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Exhausted Afghan youths sleep on the ground near the town of Madamados after their arrival with other migrants and refugees on a rubber boat from Turkey, at Lesbos Island, Greece. (AP Photo)
Updated 16 October 2019

Migrant surge overwhelms Greek islands

  • The number of people reaching Greeks islands in the eastern Aegean Sea is the highest since the EU reached a €6 billion agreement in 2016 to prevent migrants from leaving the coast of Turkey
  • The surge started before Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria, but there are concerns that it could grow much bigger

SKALA, Greece: Greece’s eastern islands are struggling to cope with a surge in arrivals of migrants and asylum-seekers that has undermined efforts to ease severe overcrowding at refugee camps.
The number of people reaching Lesbos, Samos and other Greeks islands in the eastern Aegean Sea is the highest since the European Union reached a 6 billion-euro agreement in 2016 to prevent migrants from leaving the coast of Turkey and heading to the EU.
The surge started before Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria, but there are concerns that it could grow much bigger. Since the offensive began last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to quell European criticism by warning that he could “open the gates” and send more than 3 million Syrian refugees to Europe.
Dinghies carrying migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are reaching the islands despite enhanced coast guard patrolling in recent weeks supported by the Greek military.
This is exacerbating problems at crowded refugee camps. A deadly fire at the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos on Sept. 29 triggered riots at the site, which is at 400% capacity.
The Greek government promised to accelerate transfers to the mainland and expand the network of camps there. But those transfers have so far been outnumbered by new arrivals on the islands.
Human rights group Amnesty International has described Moria as “overcrowded and unsafe” and urged other European Union countries to help Greece settle asylum-seekers.
Authorities fear that if the arrival numbers remain high through October, a winter crisis will be difficult to avoid.
Greece’s new conservative government says it also plans to detain migrants without the right to request asylum and wants to resume deportations back to Turkey under terms detailed in the 2016 EU-Turkey deal.


Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

Updated 18 min 32 sec ago

Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

  • Hong Kong cancels annual candlelight vigil for the first time in 30 years
  • Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday

BEIJING: China tightened controls over dissidents while pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and elsewhere sought ways to mark the 31st anniversary Thursday of the crushing of the pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
That came after authorities in Hong Kong took the extraordinary move of canceling an annual candlelight vigil in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s Victoria Park for the first time in 30 years.
Authorities cited the need for social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak, despite the recent reopening of schools, beaches, bars and beauty parlors. Hong Kong has had relatively few cases of the virus and life has largely returned to normal in the city of 7.4 million.
However, China has long detested the vigil, the only such activity allowed on Chinese territory to commemorate victims of the crackdown, which remains a taboo subject on the mainland. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people were killed when tanks and troops assaulted the center of Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 to break up weeks of student-led protests seen as posing a threat to authoritarian Communist Party rule.
Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday. Police and armored vehicles stood sentry on the vast surface the square. Few pedestrians lined up at security checkpoints where they must show ID to be allowed through as part of mass nationwide surveillance measures aimed at squelching any dissent.
The cancelation of the vigil also comes amid a tightening of Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong, with the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament, moving to pass national security legislation that circumvents Hong Kong’s local legislature and could severely limit free speech and opposition political activity.
In Hong Kong, a law is being passed to make it a crime to disrespect China’s national anthem and 15 well-known veteran activists were arrested and charged with organizing and taking part in illegal demonstrations. Those actions are seen as part of a steady erosion of civil rights Hong Kong was guaranteed when it was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Despite the ban on the vigil, the Asian financial hub was bracing for “pop-up” protests of the type that raged around the city during months of anti-government protests last year that often led to violent confrontations between police and demonstrators.
Thousands have been arrested over the demonstrations, which were sparked by proposed legislation that could have seen suspects extradited to mainland China where they could face torture and unfair, politically biased trials.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic Movements of China that organizes the annual vigil has called on people around the city to light candles at 8 p.m. and plans to livestream the commemorations on its website www.64live.org.
Alliance Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said protesters still planned to gather at the park to mourn victims of the massacre and show their support for the democratic cause in China. It wasn’t clear what form the activity would take or how many would attend. The entrance to the park was blocked by police barriers on Thursday.
“Hong Kong government tried to please or show loyalty to Beijing and ban our gathering before even the national security comes in. But we are determined,” Lee said at a kiosk set up by the group to distribute flyers in the busy Causeway Bay shopping district near the park.
Other vigils, virtual and otherwise, are planned elsewhere, including in Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy whose government called again this year for Beijing to own up to the facts of the crackdown.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked the crackdown anniversary on Tuesday, a day after federal forces used tear gas to clear peaceful protesters from a park in front of the White House.
Pompeo tweeted criticism of China and Hong Kong for banning the vigil before meeting privately with a group of Tiananmen Square survivors at the State Department. That too drew criticism from China.
Alongside the exchanges of rhetoric, China’s small, beleaguered dissident community has again come under greater scrutiny from the authorities. Many have been placed under house arrest and their communications with the outside world cut off, according to rights groups.
China has released the last of those arrested for directly taking part in the Tiananmen demonstrations, but others who seek to commemorate them have been rearrested for continuing their activism.
They include Huang Qi, founder of website 64 Tianwang that sought to expose official wrongdoing. Reportedly in failing health, he is serving a 12-year-sentence after being convicted of leaking state secrets abroad.