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Rate of migrant arrivals in Greece dwarfs 2015 pace: IOM

AFP , Tuesday 19 Jan 2016
Greece
Spanish volunteers tow a dinghy with refugees and migrants onboard in an effort to assist them to end safely their journey from a Turkey coast to the Greek island of Lesbos, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016 (Photo: AP)
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Greece has seen 21 times more migrants arrive on its shores so far this month than in all of January 2015, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday.

Since the beginning of 2016, IOM said 31,244 migrants and refugees had arrived in Greece by sea, compared with just 1,472 recorded arrivals on the Greek islands in January last year.

"This is a huge jump," spokesman Itayi Viriri told reporters in Geneva, warning that it does not bode well for the rest of the year.

"If the trend as it is now continues then certainly we're looking at another record number," he cautioned.

In 2015, more than one million migrants and refugees made the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Europe -- nearly half of them Syrians fleeing a civil war that has been raging for nearly five years.

Although the number of arrivals in Greece last year was initially small, by the end of the year the country alone saw well over 850,000 arrivals.

The continued influx will likely add to the EU's dissatisfaction with Turkey, a hub for migrants seeking to reach Europe which has on occasion been criticised by its Western partners for not doing enough to limit the numbers crossing the Aegean Sea.

Ankara and Brussels in November agreed a plan to stem the flow by providing Turkey with three billion euros ($3.2 billion) of EU cash as well as political concessions for Turkish cooperation in tackling Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

IOM said Tuesday that nearly 90 percent of those who have arrived in Greece so far this year are Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis.

Most of them are not staying in Greece. IOM cited numbers from Greek police showing that nearly 31,000 migrants had crossed the border to Macedonia since the beginning of the month.

Italy, which counted nearly 154,000 arrivals in 2015, has meanwhile seen 607 migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, rescued in the Channel of Sicily since January 1, IOM said.

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