UNHCR sees ‘humanitarian crisis’

A spokesman for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) yesterday called on the European Union to take immediate action to help Greece manage a «humanitarian crisis» that has arisen due to the relentless influx into the country of undocumented migrants seeking political asylum. «This is a humanitarian crisis the likes of which we should not be seeing in the EU,» UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva. According to UNHCR statistics, more than 16,000 people applied for political asylum last year in Greece. Edwards called on EU authorities to provide immediate assistance to stop the situation from worsening. «Greece is trying to solve what is essentially a European problem,» Edwards said. He said the UNCHR welcomed the government’s plans to reform the country’s dysfunctional system for granting asylum to refugees, which has a backlog of some 45,000 applications. The UNHCR’s appeal came a day after New York-based human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the government for failing to make good on its promise to rehaul the asylum processing system. «Despite its formal commitments, the Greek government has utterly failed to meet its most basic responsibilities to protect refugees,» Bill Frelick, an HRW spokesman, said on Monday. HRW called for the immediate intervention of the UNHCR. The burgeoning population of immigrants, particularly in Athens, has fueled tensions in recent weeks. The district of Aghios Panteleimonas, near the city center, has been the focus of a string of violent attacks involving immigrants. A lawyer visiting the area on Sunday to see her client, an Afghan national, was attacked by assailants thought to be far-right protesters objecting to the growing presence of migrants in the area.

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