GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency is urging Greek authorities to speedily transfer thousands of refugees and migrants living under grim conditions on Greek islands to the mainland where they can receive better care.
The agency acknowledges that about 6,000 asylum seekers have been moved to the mainland since mid-October. But, it notes, that still leaves some 10,000 living in crammed, sub-standard conditions in government-run facilities on the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos.
The agency says people must urgently be transferred to the mainland as winter begins to bite. UNHCR spokeswoman, Cecile Pouilly, says time is of the essence. She says many people will suffer as accommodations on the islands are inadequate to deal with the winter cold.
“Tension in the reception centers and on the islands have been mounting since the summer when the number of arrivals began rising," she said. "In some cases, local authorities have opposed efforts to introduce improvements inside the reception centers.”
The UNHCR reports nearly 20,000 people have reached the Greek Aegean islands since July. More than 70 percent of all arrivals this year are Syrian, Iraqi or Afghan. It says four out of 10 are children.
Pouilly tells VOA the European Union’s plan for relocating refugees to different member states appears to have stalled.
“You are right pointing out the fact that there is a need for fair relocation," she said. "And, we have been calling for a mechanism within the EU to be able to deal with emergency situations and to help states that receive most arrivals. In this particular case, with Greece and Italy.”
Meanwhile, Pouilly says the UNHCR welcomes the support of mayors of towns and cities of its accommodation scheme on the Greek mainland. She says she hopes the agency’s goal of moving 22,000 asylum seekers into these places by the end of the year will be met.