A ship crammed with thousands of mostly Syrian refugees docked in Greece’s main port of Piraeus, after the government said it was stepping up efforts to ease pressure on an eastern island being overwhelmed by new arrivals.
The government-chartered ship had set off overnight from Lesbos, where refugees had massed to get on board.
The Red Cross has described conditions on the Aegean island — a short boat journey from Turkey where there are some 2 million Syrian refugees — as a humanitarian disaster.
Interim migration minister Yannis Mouzalas said Lesbos was hosting 15,000 to 18,000 migrants, three to four times more than it could cope with.
He told state TV the government planned to move 12,000 refugees from Lesbos by Saturday by increasing the number of ships to Piraeus from three to four or five.
Over the past nine days, the coastguard estimates Greek authorities have moved close to 18,000 refugees from Lesbos to the mainland. That total includes those who arrived yesterday on board the Eleftherios Venizelos, which has a capacity of 2,500.
The vast majority of those arriving at Piraeus, which is part of the Athens conurbation, are hoping to move on to other European countries and, once disembarked, almost immediately head north, creating a second bottleneck at the border with Macedonia.
Coping with an economy already stretched close to breaking point,
Greece has also applied for €9.6 million in emergency EU funding.
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