German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, speak during a joint press conference as part of a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Greek leader convening security officials over migrant spike

August 30, 2019 - 12:12 pm

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is convening a meeting of his top security officials for Saturday to discuss a spike in migrant arrivals to the country's eastern Aegean islands from the nearby Turkish coast.

The session of the government council on foreign affairs and defense was announced Friday, hours after Greek authorities and aid groups said hundreds of people had reached the island of Lesbos in more than a dozen dinghies in a single afternoon.

The coast guard confirmed that 13 boats carrying a total of 546 people arrived on Lesbos in the space of about an hour on Thursday, while another 32 people in another boat were rescued at sea and transported to Lesbos. A further 65 were rescued in two separate incidents off the island of Kos and the northern mainland town of Alexandroupolis.

Hundreds of people continue to head to Greece from Turkey each week, despite a European Union-Turkey deal restricting new arrivals to the islands pending deportation or a successful asylum application.

But Thursday's mass arrival was the largest of its kind since 2016, when the EU-Turkey deal came into effect, medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said on Twitter.

The EU-Turkey deal has led to a large bottleneck on the eastern Aegean islands, where asylum seekers are housed in massively overcrowded camps, with aid groups frequently criticizing conditions.

People deemed to be in vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, those with serious health problems or the very young, are the only ones transported to the mainland and housed in camps or apartments.

Official figures released Friday showed that more than 10,000 people were being held in Lesbos in a facility with a capacity of 3,000 people, while there was also severe overcrowding on the islands of Chios, Leros, Kos and Samos.

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