If you can't go straight, turn: Will migrants try new Europe routes?

Italy is concerned about the spillover of tens of thousands of migrants blocked in Greece, but a migration expert says it is almost impossible to make predictions about where they will go next.

"Migrants are continuing to pile up in Greece, but what will happen in the next weeks if they do not manage to cross the border with Macedonia is unforeseeable," the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) office in Rome, Federico Soda, told dpa.

"We suspect that they will try other routes, and moving towards Albania would be logical," he said.

"But we are talking about scenarios here, we cannot rule out a Black Sea route either: If you can't go straight, you might turn left but also right."

Until 2014, Italy was the main entry point for Europe-bound migrants, who would set sail from Libya. The situation changed last year, when almost 857,000 people landed in Greece, versus less than 154,000 along the Italian coastline.

Countries on the Balkan route connecting Greece to Germany have responded in recent days with a wave of border closures, triggering concerns that Italy might once again be at the receiving end of Europe's migration crisis.

The governor of Apulia, the southern Italian region closest to Albanian shores, made gloomy predictions. "According to forecasts, 150,000 people risk arriving en masse this summer," he told the La7 TV channel on Wednesday.

The prospect of mass sea arrivals from Albania - a repeat of what happened in 1991 after the fall of Communism, when tens of thousands crossed over - dominated talks between Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, President Sergio Mattarella and other top officials on Wednesday, according to La Stampa newspaper.

The number of migrants stranded in Greece might triple to 100,000 by mid-April, George Okoth-Obbo, a senior official from UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, said at a conference in Rome last week. He warned of the risk of more deaths at sea if they attempt Adriatic crossings.

However, if migrants were to attempt a new route through Albania and Italy, they would face considerable obstacles.

They would have to venture through treacherous mountain terrain between Greece and Albania, with far less infrastructure than along the main Balkan route. They would then face an 80-100-kilometre sea channel with dangerous and powerful currents.

"Crossing the Otranto Strait is out of question for anyone unskilled. The currents and winds are too powerful. Sailing to Lampedusa or the Aegean islands is much less dangerous," said Predrag Pazin, a retired Yugoslav navy officer who served in the southern Adriatic.

Experts such as Soda also point out that not much movement has been seen at the Greek-Albanian border so far. Meanwhile, UNHCR tracked 452 migrant sea arrivals in Apulia since January 1, out of a total tally for Italy of 9,295.

But the IOM official indicated that Rome authorities were "obviously concerned" about the possibility of having to deal with large-scale landings "on two fronts," from the Balkans to Apulia, and from North Africa to Sicily.

"Making predictions is really hard," Soda said. "Some of the people in Greece will stay there, some will go back, and some others will do everything they can to circumvent Greece and continue to Europe, that's for sure."

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49
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