Desperate migrants in Greece attempt swimming back to Turkey

Migrants stranded in Greece are growing desperate, with some attempting to swim back to Turkey for a second shot at reaching Europe and others launching a hunger strike on Wednesday in protest against miserable conditions at their camp.

On the Aegean island of Chios, five Moroccans and one Algerian waded into the sea with life vests with the idea of returning to Turkey and trying to reach Europe via another route, the Greek coastguard said.

A coastguard officer described attempts to swim across as "absurdly risky ... the distance is 15 kilometres and there are strong currents."

It was one of several groups reported to have risked the desperate journey since Monday. Greek media earlier showed the coastguard plucking three people from the waves not far off the shore.

A deal signed by the European Union and Ankara has essential snubbed chances for migrants taking boat journeys from Turkey to Greece of being granted asylum in Europe.

According to the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration, more than 1 million people, many of them Syrian and Iraqi refugees, but also economic migrants from Asia and Africa, crossed the Aegean over the last 17 months. At least 1,182 drowned trying.

Tens of thousands of people are stranded in Greece due to border closures further north. They face a slow procedure that will eventually return them to Turkey. 

Many live in squalid, makeshift camps. In one of them, near Athens, several hundred people launched a hunger strike Wednesday morning in protest against the living conditions, the daily Kathimerini reported.

Around 3,500 people, the majority of them Afghans, live in the overcrowded camp at Athens' disused Ellinikon airport. Amid overcrowding and unhygienic conditions, incidents of diarrhea are multiplying particularly among children, the newspaper said.

In a report on conditions in Greek camps published Wednesday, a special Council of Europe emissary called for an urgent improvement of conditions, particularly in the biggest camps, and for better protection of children, particularly those separated from their parents.

Meanwhile, the international organization Doctors Without Borders began inoculating children at the largest of the camps, in Idomeni on the border with Macedonia, where more than 10,000 people have been stranded more than two months.

"Overall, we will vaccinate around 5,000 children, aged from six weeks to 15-years-old adolescents," said spokeswoman Kathy Athersuch.

She stressed that the vaccinations are preventive - against polio, mumps, hepatitis B and tetanus, among others - and not a reaction to a disease outbreak.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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