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UN: Refugee Crisis in Greece Causing Unbearable Suffering

  • Lisa Schlein

Migrants from Syria and Afghanistan arrive on an overcrowded dinghy from the Turkish coasts to the Greek island of Lesbos, Monday, July 27, 2015.

Migrants from Syria and Afghanistan arrive on an overcrowded dinghy from the Turkish coasts to the Greek island of Lesbos, Monday, July 27, 2015.

The refugee crisis in Greece is causing unbearable suffering for tens of thousands of people fleeing war, persecution and human rights violations, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

UNHCR is now calling for greater solidarity among European countries to resolve this growing emergency.

The agency's director for Europe, Vincent Cochetel, says he saw a situation of total chaos and abandonment on several Greek islands during a recent assessment visit.

“I have been working 30 years with UNHCR. I visited many African countries, countries in Asia — I have never seen a situation like that," he said. "This is the European Union and this is totally shameful. The level of suffering that we have seen on the islands was unbearable. What we have seen was not anything that is acceptable in terms of standard of treatment. There is absolutely nothing waiting for them … in terms of water, in terms of sanitation, in terms of food assistance, it is totally inadequate.”

The agency reports around 124,000 refugees and migrants have arrived by sea so far this year, mainly to the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros. The agency notes this represents an increase of more than 750 percent compared to the same period last year. In July alone, it says 50,000 people arrived — about 20,000 more than the previous month.

Cochetel says he is tired of seeing the media refer to the refugee emergency as a migrant crisis, saying many are fleeing conflicts in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The UNHCR is appealing for an urgent response to the deepening crisis. It says there is no system in place to receive and process the thousands of refugees and migrants arriving on the islands.

The agency says Europe must take the lead in providing financial and technical assistance well beyond what it has given so far. It says Greek authorities must coordinate the response and set up an adequate humanitarian assistance mechanism for those who have nothing.

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