Athens - As Israel steps up its siege of Gaza and the likelihood of a prolonged conflict grows, Greece is bracing for a new influx of illegal migrants. The country's top migration official warns the latest violence will add to a surge of migrants that U.N. data say is already led by Palestinians.
Greek migration minister Dimitris Keridis warned that even before the outbreak of hostilities between Hamas and Israel, Greece had already been facing the biggest surge in illegal migrant inflows in recent years.
Keridis said, "as if the multitude of flashpoints in northern Africa and Syria were not pushing thousands of migrants and refugees to Europe already, now this."
The minister warned that escalating violence in the Middle East is likely add to migration pressure to Greece and the European Union as a whole, especially, he said, if Iran gets involved in the crisis and tensions boil over in Lebanon, Egypt, and Libya.
Like Italy and Spain, Greece has faced rising migrant inflows.
This year it has already counted more than double the 18,780 illegal entries authorities recorded for all of 2022.
FILE - Migrants disembark from a Greek coast vessel after a rescue operation, at the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Aegean Sea island of Lesbos, Greece, Aug. 28, 2023.
United Nations data show Palestinians dominate the surge, seeking illegal corridors of entry to Europe, through Turkey, Egypt or Libya. The massive departure of Palestinians from their homeland has largely been driven by a spate of violence in the West Bank over the last several months.
The data also show that Palestinians account for 22 percent of illegal entries to Greece, followed by Afghans, Somalis and Syrians.
Speaking to a local broadcaster, Keridis said Greece remains vigilant, but didn't specify what added measures his government is considering to further protect its borders.
Keridis warned that migration pressures would increase significantly if growing violence after Hamas' attack in Gaza leads to a protracted conflict, as many are predicting.
Palestinians walk amid the rubble following Israeli airstrikes that razed swaths of a neighborhood in Gaza City, Oct. 10, 2023.
He said that even if Israel succeeds in its bid to regain control of Gaza, reseal its borders from Hamas intruders and wipe out the terrorist organization entirely, migration flows will not ease.
There is no doubt, he said, that the imminent goal is for Israel to counter Hamas and arrest those responsible for the recent attacks. But that, the minister said, will not ease illegal migration. He said a military option must be coupled with a deal to resolve the Palestinian crisis because left unsolved, or without some framework of a settlement, crises of this type will continue erupting.
This week, Greece joined forces with Cyprus, Italy, Malta and Spain in demanding more funding from the European Union to deal with rising illegal migration. The five countries also urged Brussels to adopt sanctions on states that do not take back illegal migrants.
EU leaders who met in Granada, Spain, on October 6 were fiercely divided in their efforts to draft a common position.