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Greece Concerned With EU's Latest Proposal To Deal With Migrants

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Take one broke country, Greece, add an unprecedented flood of immigrants arriving on its shores, and you have the makings of a blame game. The EU has been criticizing Greece for its handling of the crisis. Greece says it needs more help. Joanna Kakissis joined us from Athens for more. Good morning.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: It seems to me, having observed this, that Greece has been left to itself somewhat to deal with this. I mean, why is it being accused in this way?

KAKISSIS: You know, it hasn't been left entirely up to its own devices. The Greek coast guard has been patrolling the eastern Mediterranean Sea - and that's that stretch between Greece and Turkey - with the help of the European Union's border agency, which is called Frontex. And this is, like, a really imposing name, but it's an organization that doesn't really have the power to match. It's a collection of police and border guards from the 28 EU member states, and the EU is supposed to respect the sovereignty of its member states. So, Frontex is not allowed to just run into a country unless the country's officials want that agency's help and formally request it. So the member states also have to agree to fund this operation, and that doesn't always happen.

MONTAGNE: And what does that mean, then, for Greece? Has it gotten the help that it does need?

KAKISSIS: It's gotten some help. Frontex has given at least 477 officers to Greece as of November, and now the Greeks have asked for extra emergency help, so more are going to come. But even with Frontex's help, the Greeks have been really, really understaffed just because of the sheer number of migrants arriving. At one point, there were 10,000 migrants arriving every day on just one island. So even now in December - and it's cold and there are, like, extremely rough seas - you're having at least 4,000 migrants landing on Greek islands every day. More than 680 people have drowned on this journey this year. And the Greek coast guard and the Frontex officers, their priority is to save lives. And there's just not enough government rescue workers. They are getting help from volunteers like lifeguards from Spain, Greek fishermen or even jumping into the water to save the lives of people coming over on these boats.

MONTAGNE: And so the EU has taken this all into consideration, and it is going to help Greece beef up border security. But will that really help secure the borders, all the borders that allow people into the EU?

KAKISSIS: One of the big players here is Turkey, and it's not even in the European Union. The refugees and migrants are leaving from Turkey, and Turkish authorities are doing very little to stop them even after the EU gave Turkey lots of money to do so. So the European narrative is blame everything on the Greeks, but they've been largely left to their own devices here. And the Greek know that once the boats with migrants reach the European Union's territorial waters, you've got to help them.

MONTAGNE: Joanna, thanks very much.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.