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Migrants increasingly risk lives arriving in Greece by river or sea

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Migrants increasingly risk lives arriving in Greece by river or sea
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Migrants are increasingly arriving in Greece by river or sea after Athens put up a 10-kilometre fence on the Turkish border to stop the flow of migrants in 2012.

Euronews correspondents Fay Doulgkeri and Bryan Carter travelled 800 kilometres across Greece to the Evros river, which forms a natural border between Greece and Turkey near the city of Alexandropouli, Greece.

Migrants either cross the Evros river or take a boat across the Mediterranean to arrive in the port at Alexandropouli. Before Greece erected the fence, it was easier to cross by land.

“Fences or other measures will not stop the refugee flows, but may lead to dangerous crossing points that have serious consequences to the lives or the health of persons,” UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Protection officer, Margaritis Petritzikis told Euronews.

The UNHCR estimates that between January and April 2019, a total of 7,097 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece via the Mediterranean sea despite some progress to increase legal pathways to Europe.

Indeed at a reception centre in Filakio, Greece, Euronews' correspondents met an Afghan couple who had crossed the sea, arriving by boat in Alexandropouli.

“After three times we succeeded to come here, we crossed the border and reached Alexandropouli,” the couple said.

They've been at the reception centre for three months.

Local journalist Thanassis Tsolakis worries that this route into Alexandropouli via sea will become a trend.

If it does, he says, “it will be a humanitarian disaster. We will have a serious problem. We will see people drowning in bigger numbers than today. There will be a lot more lives lost, and this is something very new for the authorities to deal with.”

Migrants who make it to Greece often end up in the closed reception centre in Filakio where 250 migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are held. Roughly half are children or barely adults. There, they wait for the asylum request procedure to be completed. It can often take several weeks.

Most of the migrants there came to Greece by crossing the Evros river, a method of arriving that often increases during the spring and summer since the refugees can cross the river more easily.

A local fisherman described seeing migrants and smugglers on the river, often putting lives at risk.

“I saw from my own eyes how a man can drown, in just half a metre of water," said local fisherman Thanassis Kamilaris.

"It’s like taking a rock and throwing it in the water, he reached the bottom that fast, and there was another person next to him standing and he grabbed him from his back and he pulled him out of the water, and I thought he would drown, he didn’t know how to swim at all."