ATHENS (Reuters) - An international aid organisation pledged on Tuesday to boost its aid for thousands of refugees streaming through Greece and said allowing them legal passage across the Aegean would help save lives and stop traffickers profiting from their misery.
At least 435 migrants drowned in the Aegean Sea in the first 10 months of this year, international data shows, out of more than 580,000 estimated to have crossed from Turkey to European Union member Greece, many of them fleeing Syria’s civil war.
On the Greek island of Lesbos, which receives the largest number of arrivals, the cemeteries and mortuary are now full and a local bishop said authorities were now using a special freezer car to store the dead bodies.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which coordinates humanitarian groups around the world, promised to increase its aid to 12.7 million Swiss francs over the next seven months from 3 million offered in September.
In Athens, the IFRC Secretary General, Elhadj As Sy, called for a loosening of travel restrictions to allow the refugees to move legally, echoing a position long held by Greece.
“Because if you do it legally, you take away the illegal business from the traffickers and then the smugglers. And then people would feel safer and it would be better organised,” he said.
Rescue organisations report that smugglers take up to 1,400 euros per passenger for a short boat trip. If they were tourists the cost for a round trip from Turkey to Lesbos would be 25 euros.
Bishop Iakovos of Mytilene (Lesbos) said on Tuesday about 20 people were still unburied on the island due to a lack of space to accommodate them.
“A special freezer car has been brought and people are placed in there until they can be buried. Most of them are unidentified, and that includes children,” he told Mega TV.
Authorities are actively seeking a permanent burial site for the dead refugees, he said.
While members of the Greek Orthodox Christian faith are often exhumed three years after their death to be stored in an ossuary, that practise is not acceptable for Muslims, the bishop said. A majority of the refugees are Muslim.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ office said on Tuesday he had accepted an invitation to talks in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu on the migrant crisis and other issues.
Reporting By Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones