Geneva: The United Nations warned today that migrants landing in Greece were facing “shameful” conditions, with the crisis-hit country claiming it was unable to cope with the massive influx on its Aegean islands.
Some 124,000 people, almost all of them fleeing war and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, have come ashore since the beginning of the year, a 750 per cent increase from the same period last year, the UN refugee agency said.
But when they arrive on Greek islands facing Turkey there is usually nothing for them and most are forced to sleep outdoors, relying on volunteers for food and water, said Vincent Cochetel, head of UNHCR’s Europe division.
“It’s total chaos on the islands,” he said, describing desperate, exhausted people, including women, children and unaccompanied minors, searching for food, water, shelter and information about how to proceed.
After a few days they are transferred to Athens, where again “there is nothing waiting for them,” he said. Greece only offers reception places for 1,100 people, he revealed, “which is totally inadequate for the needs.”
Around 50,000 people arrived in July alone — 20,000 more than in June, the UN refugee agency said.
The agency had earlier lambasted Austria for the “intolerable, dangerous and inhumane” conditions in its main refugee camp near Vienna, which is holding twice as many people as it was meant for.
But Cochetel, who has worked with the UNHCR for three decades across many African and Asian countries, said he had never seen anything like what is happening in Greece.
“This is the European Union, and this is totally shameful,” he added.
The condemnation comes after it emerged that knife-wielding traffickers sealed migrants in the hull of a boat which sank off Libya on Wednesday in the latest shipwreck tragedy that may have claimed more than 200 lives.
Italian police arrested five men accused of multiple murder on the massively overcrowded vessel that was carrying 600 people.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the huge influx of migrants was too much for his debt-ravaged country and pleaded for EU help.
“This problem surpasses us. Greece is a country in economic crisis, and it faces a major humanitarian crisis within a crisis,” he said.
He did, however, vow to speed up procedures to get migrants to the mainland as soon as possible, and said a new housing complex would soon be completed in Athens to relocate hundreds of refugees currently sleeping in one of the capital’s parks.