UNHCR: 70,000 refugees fled to Greece last year; EU fails to reach resettlement target


More than 70,000 asylum-seekers have fled to Greece this year, the UN’s agency for refugees said Monday, as Greek officials warned of a humanitarian crisis that needs to be tackled by the rule of law.

The figure was made public as European Union ministers failed to reach consensus on how to relocate 40,000 asylum-seekers currently located in Greece and Italy among the bloc’s 28 members, in line with a blueprint laid out in June.

European ministers have so far agreed on how to resettle 32,000 of applicants, including 354 in Greece. According to sources quoted by Reuters, a decision on the remaining 8,000 will be made by December.

The need for other EU nations to shoulder part of the burden was pointed out Monday by Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Volker Turk in an interview with Austrian newspaper Der Standard. Putting the number of Greece’s refugees – mostly from war-torn states like Syria and Iraq – at 70,000, Turk warned that the debt-wracked nation’s asylum system has reached its limit.

Responding to a question by the xenophobic Golden Dawn party, Alternate Minister for Citizens’ Protection Yiannis Panousis said the government is faced with a humanitarian crisis, which is also an issue for the UN.

“We are looking for a solution within the rule of law. We cannot throw [these people] into the sea or let them live like animals.”

Also Monday, Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis urged authorities to make sure that refugees were spread out among Athens’s municipalities and other Greek cities.