ATHENS (Reuters) - An international aid organization on Tuesday pledged more aid for thousands of refugees streaming through Greece and said allowing them legal passage across the Aegean would help save lives and stop traffickers profiting from their misery.
At least 435 migrants drowned in the Aegean Sea in the first 10 months of this year, out of more than 580,000 estimated to have crossed from Turkey to European Union member Greece, many of them fleeing Syria’s civil war.
The advent of more wintry conditions has not stemmed the flow, and the number of border crossings in the last 11 days of October was up almost 40 percent on the previous 11 days, the International Committee for Migration said.
On the island of Lesbos, which receives the most arrivals, one witness told Reuters about 40 vessels laden with refugees had arrived on Tuesday alone.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) promised to provide 12.7 million Swiss francs ($12.8 million) for the refugees in Greece over the next seven months, after giving 3 million in September.
In Athens, IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy called for a loosening of travel restrictions to allow the refugees to move legally, echoing a position long held by Greece.
“If you do it legally, you take away the illegal business from the traffickers and then the smugglers. And then people would feel safer and it would be better organized,” he said.
Rescue organizations report that smugglers take up to 1,400 euros per passenger for a short crossing. Tourists taking a round trip from Turkey to Lesbos pay around 25 euros.
Bishop Iakovos of Mytilene (Lesbos) said about 20 people were still unburied on the island due to a lack of space.
“A special freezer car has been brought and people are placed in there until they can be buried. Most of them are unidentified, and that includes children,” he told Mega TV.
The coroner of the island said local authorities were finding it difficult to cope. “We are giving 150 percent of ourselves ... we are getting small children, babies, pregnant women. It is impossible not to break down,” Thodoros Nousas told the newspaper Ethnos.
The bodies of Greek Orthodox Christians are often exhumed three years after death, to be placed in an ossuary.
But most of the refugees are Muslim, and the bishop said the practice was not acceptable for them. He said authorities were looking for a permanent burial site.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ office said on Tuesday he had accepted an invitation to talks with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu on the migrant crisis and other issues.
($1 = 0.9918 Swiss francs)
Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; and Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones and Kevin Liffey