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Greece requests emergency EU aid to fund migrant surge

Greece has asked for 63 million euros in funding to cope with a surge in migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Numbers are expected to triple on 2013's figures by the end of the year.

The Greek government said on Thursday that it has requested emergency aid from the European Union to deal with the surge of migrants and asylum seekers - more than half of which are escaping civil war in Syria and Iraq.

Greece is asking for 63 million euros ($81 million) in funding, with operation costs expected to reach 76 million euros this year alone.

"The situation has reached a dangerous level," Greek Minister for Mercantile Marine, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said.

Varvitsiotis said the number of migrants travelling to Greece is expected to triple this year, in comparison with 2013's figures.

"We are facing a great challenge," said Varvitsiotis, adding that more than two million migrants in Turkey, half of whom are Syrians, could soon attempt to cross the Aegean Sea and enter the EU via Greece.

Illegal migrants

According to the Greek coast guard, between January and August of this year, 17,639 migrants made the risky journey from neighboring Turkey - an increase of more than 7,000 on the same time last year. A total of 98 people have also drowned in their attempt to enter the country illegally.

The number of migrant arrests at sea is also forecast to triple on last year to more than 31,000 by the end of 2014.

In the past decade alone, more than 1 million arrivals have been registered in the south European country.

Gateway to Europe

Lying on the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, Greece is the ideal gateway for many migrants willing to risk the dangerous crossing to enter the European Union.

According to Greek coast guard officials, over the past seven years, the country has received approximately 70 million euros ($ 90 million) for vessels, as well as additional support from the EU's border protection agency, Frontex.

Increased pressure

The huge rise in people fleeing violence in Africa and the Middle East is increasing the already intense pressure on the euro zone's most indebted country.

"Definitely due to the budget limitations we are having, the limited resources and the lack of great support from the European Union, I think that we are getting into a danger zone," said Varvitsiotis.

Almost five years on since debt-ridden Greece plunged Europe's Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) into a deep crisis, Athens today carries a debt burden of around 320 billion euros.

Greece is set to hold more debt talks at the end of September, following three days of meetings this week.

ksb/sb (AFP, dpa)

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