UNHCR urges Greece to resolve refugee crisis deemed ‘shameful’ for EU member

A dinghy overcrowded with Afghan immigrants approaches the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, August 6, 2015. © Yiannis Kourtoglou
Facing a 750 percent surge in the influx of refugees, the Greek government must try harder to provide adequate care and accommodation for those fleeing war zones, the UN has claimed. Greece says the humanitarian emergency exceeds the crisis-torn economy’s capabilities and represents an EU-level problem.

The vast majority of arrivals coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, end up on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Samos, and Leros, where they are faced with inadequate medical facilities, and accommodation that can offer neither water nor food.

“Such a level of suffering should and can be avoided. The Greek authorities need to urgently designate a single body to coordinate response and set up an adequate humanitarian assistance mechanism,” Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Director of the Bureau for Europe, said in a statement after visiting Greece last month.

While noting the lack of reception facilities on the islands, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that the conditions of the infrastructure which is up and running are worse than those found in many less-developed nations.

“I've been working 30 years with UNHCR, I’ve visited many African and Asian countries and I’ve never seen such a situation,” Cochetel stated, according to Xinhua, adding that “this is the European Union and this is totally shameful.”

The new figures released by the UN refugee agency on Friday demonstrated an overwhelming 750 percent increase from last year of people flooding the Greek Mediterranean islands. Some 124,000 refugees made it to Greece by water from Turkey. Last month alone Greece was forced to welcome 50,000 new arrivals –20,000 more than the previous month.

The “vast majority” of people rushing to get to Greece are fleeing conflict zones. Syrians make up 63 percent of all migrants that came to EU eastern outpost this year. Others include 20 percent Afghans and 4 percent Iraqis.

UNHCR noted that if it was not for the good hearts of the Greeks and NGOs working in the country the situation could have been worse, as they seem to be the only ones offering shelter, medicine, care, food and water. The UNHCR is also delivering basic humanitarian assistance.

To aid the crisis faced by the migrants, the UN refugee agency suggests easing the access to the asylum procedure in addition to the “urgent need” to increase reception capacity on the mainland, especially for families with children.

“Greece and Europe need to lead the response to this crisis, which can be resolved only through more solidarity within and outside the EU and increased alternative means to reach Europe for refugees fleeing from violence,” added Cochetel.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that Greece is overwhelmed by its migration problems, and called on the EU to help.

“Greece is a country in economic crisis, and it faces a major humanitarian crisis within a crisis. These dimensions exceed our country’s capabilities, they are European dimensions,” Tsipras said, as cited by AFP.

According to the agency's latest figures, over 225,000 people have traveled across the Mediterranean to EU shores, with at least 2,100 dying along the way.

In response to the UN calls for Athens to improve the situation, the PM said that Greeks “will do what we can to meet our humanistic obligation, by giving what little we have.”