First refugees leave Greece under EU quota as influx surges

In this photo released by Greek Prime Minister's office on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, refugees wait inside an aircraft to depart from Athens to Luxembourg

In this photo released by Greek Prime Minister’s office on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, refugees wait inside an aircraft to depart from Athens to Luxembourg

The first refugees left Greece on Wednesday under an EU relocation plan, but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warned they were a “drop in the ocean” as the number of illegal migrant entries surged to 800,000 this year.

The six Syrian and Iraqi families, who are starting new lives in Luxembourg, are the first to be relocated from Greece under plans to share out nearly 160,000 migrants across the bloc in a scheme fiercely opposed by some EU members.

Tsipras, who was at Athens airport to see the 30 refugees off, said they were making “a trip to hope”, but warned their numbers were nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands who have arrived on European shores this year.

“Today they have the opportunity to make a trip to hope, to a better life,” said Tsipras, who was joined at the airport by Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

“It’s a drop in the ocean, but we hope the drop will become a stream and then a river of humanity.”

He spoke as Fabrice Leggeri, the head of the EU’s Frontex border agency, told Germany’s Bild newspaper that migrants have made some 800,000 “illegal entries” to the bloc so far this year and warned that the influx has probably not “reached its peak”.

The need for a solution to Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II is becoming increasingly urgent, with at least 80 migrants — many of them children — dying in the last week while trying to cross from Turkey to Greece in rough weather.

“It’s these flights that should be routine, not shipwrecks,” Greece’s deputy immigration minister Ioannis Mouzalas said as the refugees flew out from Athens.


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