Accessibility links

UNHCR: Greece Overwhelmed by Migrants

  • Lisa Schlein

Refugees and migrants line up to board buses at the Greek port of Piraeus, near Athens, Oct. 15, 2015. They were among nearly 2,500 arriving from Lesbos on the passenger ferry, Eleftherios Venizelos.

Refugees and migrants line up to board buses at the Greek port of Piraeus, near Athens, Oct. 15, 2015. They were among nearly 2,500 arriving from Lesbos on the passenger ferry, Eleftherios Venizelos.

The U.N. refugee agency is warning that Greece cannot cope with the flood of refugees and migrants landing on its shores because it lacks proper reception facilities to register and screen them.

The backlog in processing is increasing tensions, violence and chaos, the UNHCR said. A violent flare-up in a crowd on the island of Lesbos Thursday forced its staff to be evacuated briefly from a registration site.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees and migrants were arriving by sea from Turkey, the agency said.

An upsurge in sea crossings over the past couple of days has increased the death toll, according to UNHCR. In one incident, seven people drowned following a collision between a smuggling boat and a Greek coast guard vessel, authorities said.

Updated facilities sought

Last Saturday in Athens, during talks with its European Union partners, Greece pledged to open five migrant processing centers. The first so-called “hot spot” reception center is expected to open by next week in the Lesbos community of Mitilini, an official said.

Establishing proper facilities to process the thousands of desperate people arriving in Greece would reduce the turmoil, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

FILE - A Syrian refugee prays as he arrives on an overcrowded dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing part of the Aegean Sea from the Turkish coast, Sept. 29, 2015.

FILE - A Syrian refugee prays as he arrives on an overcrowded dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing part of the Aegean Sea from the Turkish coast, Sept. 29, 2015.

Disturbances during the last few days stem from "the inability to deal with these large numbers of arrivals," he said. "… Some people [are] walking across Lesbos to try and get around the problems there and then moving on through Europe."

The migration crisis isn’t "adequately being managed," in part because of limited facilities, Edwards added.

"Many people go through without being fingerprinted. Many people move along this journey without the basics of dealing with large refugee and migrant population movements being in place. That is what needs to change."

Strains on countries

More than 100 people have died making the crossing from Turkey to Greece this year, while more than 3,100 have perished across the Mediterranean as a whole, the UNHCR reported.

So far this year, more than 450,000 refugees and migrants have arrived by sea in Greece, putting enormous strain on local communities, the agency noted.

The European Union has agreed to establish reception centers in so-called hot spots, such as Lesbos.

Until now, it has failed to do so. The UNHCR said it is absolutely urgent and essential to establish the centers to properly manage people and assess who is in need of asylum and who is not.

It said a proper registration process also is essential for the success of a planned relocation of 160,000 refugees mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq among the European Union’s member States.

XS
SM
MD
LG