As the European winter approaches, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports additional reception sites in Greece are urgently needed to accommodate the massive flow of refugees and migrants from Syria and other countries of conflict.
The U.N. refugee agency says it is increasing support efforts on the Greek island of Lesbos, where the need is greatest. It says nearly half of the 660,000 refugees and migrants who have arrived in Greece this year have landed on Lesbos.
Despite the deteriorating weather conditions, the agency says an average of 5,000 people a day are arriving in Greece and this is causing great problems. It says accommodations are overstretched and inadequate to handle so many people.
Migrants are seen walking towards Austria in Sentilj, Slovenia, Oct. 30, 2015. Asylum-seekers hoping to reach Western Europe turned to crossing Slovenia after Hungary closed its border with Croatia with a barbed-wire fence.
Speaking by telephone from Athens, Diane Goodman is the director of operations for the UNHCR's European bureau, said there only are 2,800 places for some 12,000 refugees and migrants currently on the island.
“What we are trying to do, together with partners, is to identify really those that are the most vulnerable because there is limited accommodation. We try to make sure that the people with the greatest need get it.
"We also are distributing blankets and winter clothes, working with the volunteers as well who are providing some hot meals. So, we are doing what we can in the circumstances, but we really hope that the reception capacity will be increased," said Goodman.
The UNHCR is the only U.N. agency on Lesbos. Goodman says the agency is working around the clock with volunteers and non-governmental organizations and hopes soon to boost its current staff of 29 to 40.
Despite the many challenges facing aid workers, she says it is important to realize that lives, nonetheless, are being saved and essential needs are being met.
Goodman says the government has not yet allocated land to establish reception sites that would measure up to the standards needed to accommodate, register and screen the refugees. She notes, however, that the UNHCR and Greek authorities currently are on an assessment mission to come up with an appropriate reception plan.