Action pledged on refugee crisis

Action pledged on refugee crisis

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday pledged swift action to help authorities deal with the soaring influx of refugees and migrants reaching Greece as the United Nations revealed that the number of arrivals this year is more than 750 percent higher than in 2014.

Tsipras chaired a government meeting aimed at finding ways to tackle the growing problem, which has left authorities on Greek islands unable to cope with the sheer numbers of people arriving on their shores. The other aspect of the problem is that so many migrants and refugees are arriving that Greece does not have the infrastructure to deal with them, meaning many are forced to live in squalid conditions in makeshift camps.

It was decided at Friday’s meeting that the government will take steps over the next few days to form a body that can manage the funds the European Union is willing to allocate for migration- and asylum-related projects.

EU migration spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said Friday that 320 million euros is available to Greece for tackling immigration over the next few years. “We are doing a lot to help Greece,” she said. “There are record numbers of arrivals and we know the situation is pressurized.”

Tsipras and his ministers also agreed Friday that the Greek government would step up efforts to generate international awareness about the problem and to push for greater solidarity from within the European Union, perhaps by joining forces with other countries that are affected.

“The EU is being tested on the issue of Greece. It has responded negatively on the economic front – that’s my view. I hope it will respond positively on the humanitarian front,” said Tsipras.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) yesterday called on Greece and the EU to do more to help migrants and refugees. “The level of suffering we have seen on the islands is unbearable. People arrive thinking they are in the European Union. What we have seen was not anything acceptable in terms of standards of treatment,” Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR director for Europe, said after visiting the Greek islands of Lesvos, Kos and Chios.

“I have never seen a situation like that. This is the European Union and this is totally shameful,” he added, urging Athens to mobilize more resources, including the army, to deal with the problem.

EU border agency Frontex said that almost 50,000 migrants arrived in the EU in July via Greece, compared to 41,700 in all of 2014. The UNHCR said that the total figure for the year so far stands at around 124,000, which is more than 750 percent up on the same period in 2014.

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