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Greek ferry strike ending; migrants able to move

05 November 2015, 20:30

Athens - The latest as tens of thousands of people flood into Europe in search of a new life. All times local.

Greek ferries are to start operating again Friday morning after the seamen's union called off rolling 48-hour strikes.

Also read: Child drowns, another missing in migrant boat sinking-Greece

The strikes, which began Monday, have stranded tens of thousands of residents of small islands, prevented agricultural produce from reaching mainland markets and trapped thousands of refugees on eastern Aegean islands. The union has said it will participate in a general strike called for Nov. 12.

Pressure had mounted on the union to allow exceptions at least for ferries transporting refugees and migrants from the islands to the mainland.

So far more than 600,000 people have reached Greece from Turkey, with the vast majority aiming to move on to more prosperous countries in the European Union's north. After receiving registration papers on the islands, the refugees take ferries to the mainland, then proceed north to the border.

3:30 p.m.

Greece's coast guard says a patrol boat has rescued 78 people crammed onto a wooden boat that ran aground off the eastern Aegean island of Kos after sailing from the nearby Turkish shore.

The boat hit sandy shallows near the northern coast of Kos Thursday, and those on board were picked up by a coast guard vessel and transported to the island's harbor. No injuries were reported among the passengers.

A further 293 people were rescued from five inflatable dinghies and a wooden boat overnight and Thursday morning near Lesbos, the island where the majority of refugee arrivals occur. In a separate incident, the coast guard arrested two suspected smugglers heading back towards Turkey from Lesbos in an inflatable dinghy.

More than 600,000 people have reached Greece so far this year, with hundreds dying when their overloaded boats have sunk or capsized during the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey.

2:30 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says it's expecting up to 5,000 refugees and other migrants a day to arrive in Greece from Turkey over the next four months.

UNHCR laid out its winter plan on Thursday with an appeal for another $96.15 million in funding. It warned about the possibility of more deaths among the thousands of refugees who have been crossing the Aegean "if adequate measures are not taken."

The agency said its focus is on improving shelter and reception facilities for the winter and providing items like tents, refugee housing units, blankets and clothing. It also hopes to winterize water and sanitation systems.

The additional appeal raises UNHCR's total additional funding request to nearly $173 million. UNHCR estimates that more than 700,000 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea this year.

2:05 p.m.

The Austrian Interior Ministry says that 56,356 people applied for asylum between January and September, representing a 231-percent jump over the same period last year.

Statistics published Thursday by the ministry show there were 17,010 such applications between January and September of 2014.

Nearly 30 percent of this year's applications came from Syrian nationals. Afghans were the second highest at more than 22.5 percent, followed by Iraqis at 16 percent and Pakistanis at 5 percent.

Eleven percent of all the applicants were unaccompanied minors.

1:55 p.m.

Greek police say they came under fire on the country's northeastern border with Turkey during the arrest of two suspected migrant-smugglers who had just ferried 22 people across the Evros river that runs along the Greek-Turkish border.

Police said late Wednesday that a border patrol intercepted two inflatable dinghies that had been rowed across the river from the Turkish side late Tuesday night with 24 people on board, including seven children. All were Syrians except for one Iraqi.

The patrol arrested two Syrian men aged 31 and 44 as suspected smugglers. During the arrest, police said, the patrol and the group of refugees came under fire from a suspected smuggler still on the Turkish side of the border, who fired about 30 shots. The Greek patrol fired in the air, and no injuries were reported.

1:35 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special representative on migration says the numbers of Syrian refugees trying to reach Europe shows no sign of abating despite the onset of winter.

Peter Sutherland acknowledged the enormity of the problem in a BBC interview, describing the influx as having no solution now or in the foreseeable future.

He says the war in Syria "is driving people to desperation in terms of leaving and it will continue in its effects," and that Europe has no choice morally and legally but to address it.

"This is now a global responsibility, but it is a particular European responsibility," he said. "And in Europe we can't say simply that those who are the closest to the problem, and therefore receive most of the migrants, have to handle it themselves."

1:15 p.m.

German authorities say 181,000 asylum-seekers entered the country in October, 17,000 more than September as the flow continued to increase despite worsening weather conditions

Figures released Thursday by the Interior Ministry show about 758,000 people seeking safety and a new life have entered Germany between in the first 10 months this year.

The number of formal asylum requests last month was 54,877, about half from Syrians. That figure lags behind actual arrivals as officials struggle to process all applications.

Syrians make up the greatest single number of asylum-seekers so far this year, but they're outnumbered overall by those from the Balkans. Germany says almost all Balkan applicants will be sent home because their countries are considered safe.

12:55 p.m.

Greek authorities say the flow of refugees and other migrants heading north across the country's border with Macedonia has slowed to a comparative trickle as a ferry strike now in its fourth day traps thousands of people on eastern Aegean islands.

Police in the Idomeni border area said 850 people had crossed between Wednesday morning and Thursday morning. The numbers usually range from 4,000 to 8,000 people per day.

An estimated 25,000 people are on the islands where they arrived from the nearby Turkish coast, awaiting the end of the ferry strike to make their way to the mainland.

The seamen's union, which called the strike that began Monday to protest austerity measures that are part of Greece's bailout, has come under pressure to allow exceptions for ferries carrying refugees.

12:50 p.m.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says he witnessed migrants and refugees reaching Lesbos by dinghy shortly after landing on the island to inaugurate a fast-track registration center.

Tsipras, traveling with European Parliament President Martin Schulz Thursday, said the dinghy reached the shore as his motorcade was traveling from Lesbos airport to the new registration facility.

"We saw firsthand a makeshift boat arriving, full of refugees. And, indeed, we realized that is a criminal process being carried out by the smugglers who cram refugees onto vessels that are not boats, but makeshift inflatables," he said. "What's happening in the Aegean Sea is a crime and it has to stop."

Tsipras inaugurated a migrant processing center, known as a "hotspot" and run by the European Union border protection agency, Frontex — the first of five planned in Greece.

12 p.m.

The European Union is predicting that 3 million more migrants could arrive in the 28-nation bloc by the end of next year.

More than 700,000 people have come to Europe seeking sanctuary or jobs so far this year, overwhelming reception centers and border authorities.

EU autumn economic forecasts released on Thursday say that based on current migrant entries and a "technical assumption" about future flows, arrival rates are unlikely to slow before 2017.

The EU's executive Commission said that "overall, an additional 3 million persons is assumed to arrive in the EU over the forecast period."

The Commission says the refugee crisis has resulted in additional government spending but that it could have a small, positive impact on European economies within a few years.

10:50 a.m.

Greek ferries are tied up in port for a fourth day, stranding tens of thousands of residents of small islands, preventing agricultural produce from reaching mainland markets and trapping thousands of refugees on eastern Aegean islands.

The anti-austerity strike, which began Monday, was to continue until Friday morning. Pressure has mounted on the seamen's union to allow exceptions for ferries chartered to transport the refugees and other migrants who reach Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast.

So far more than 600,000 people have reached Greece from Turkey this year, with the vast majority aiming to move on to more prosperous countries in the European Union's north. After receiving registration papers on the islands, the refugees take ferries to the mainland, from where they head to the northern border.

10:35 a.m.

Greece's coast guard says its crews are searching for the body of a 6-year-old boy and have recovered the body of another child after the boat they were on with another 14 people sank near the Greek island of Kos.

The coast guard said Thursday that one of the survivors of the overnight sinking told rescuers he had let go of the body of his young son to save his remaining family members. Ten people were rescued from the water, while a further four managed to swim to shore.

The sinking is the latest in a series of deadly shipwrecks as refugees and migrants attempt to cross from Turkey to nearby Greek islands. More than 600,000 people have reached Greece so far this year.

- AP


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