Numbers of refugee arrivals to Greece increase dramatically
More refugees and migrants arrived in Greece last month than during the whole of 2014, the UN refugee agency announced on Tuesday, and called for a European-wide response to deal with the escalating crisis.
UNHCR said that in July 50,242 people, mostly fleeing the conflict in Syria, arrived in Greece compared to 43,500 for the whole of last year. This dramatic increase means that the total number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece had now reached the 160,000 mark.
"The latest figures compiled by UNHCR show the number of sea arrivals from 1 January to 14 August 2015 to be 158,456. During the same period, 1,716 refugees and migrants entered Greece through its land border with Turkey, bringing the total number of arrivals (sea and land) to 160,172," UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a press briefing in Geneva.
He added that last week alone nearly 21,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece, almost half the total number of arrivals in all of 2014.
"The pace of arrivals has been steadily increasing in recent weeks," Spindler told reporters, adding that: "the vast majority of last week's arrivals were Syrians (16,997 people or 82% of the total), Afghans (2,847 or 14%) and Iraqis (582 or 3%), confirming that the overwhelming majority of arrivals are likely to qualify for refugee status."
The latest figures from Greece bring the total number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year to some 264,500, including 158,456 to Greece, approximately 104,000 to Italy, 1,953 to Spain and 94 to Malta.
Spindler reiterated that for months, UNHCR has been warning of a mounting refugee crisis on the Greek islands and repeated calls for Greece and the European Union in general to take steps to address the situation.
"The reception infrastructure, services and registration procedures both on the islands and on the mainland need to be strengthened urgently. We are recommending Greek authorities to designate a single body to coordinate an emergency response and set up an adequate humanitarian assistance mechanism. European countries should support Greece on these efforts. UNHCR is working to support the Greek authorities," Spindler said.