From the start of 2015 more than 109,000 persons, mainly refugees, have arrived in Greece mostly by the sea from Turkey, fleeing from war-torn countries like Syria, according to UNHCR figures
Greece and the European Union need to take urgent and bold action to tackle the refugee crisis unfolding in the country, UN's refugee agency UNHCR officials said in Athens on Friday.
Addressing a press briefing at the end of a five day visit to Greece, UNHCR's Director of the Bureau for Europe Vincent Cocherel and Director of Emergency, Security and Supply Terry Morel, urged the government to take stronger steps to address the mounting challenge.
From the start of 2015 more than 109,000 persons, mainly refugees, have arrived in Greece mostly by the sea from Turkey, fleeing from war-torn countries like Syria, according to UNHCR figures.
Almost eight in ten new arrivals this year come from Syria (62 percent) and Afghanistan (21 percent). Out of a total of 53,500 Syrians who have reached Southern Europe so far in 2015, about 45,000 have landed in Greece. The number in 2014 in the same period (January-June) was about 6,400 people.
The reception infrastructure in the debt laden Greece, services and registration procedures are inadequate compared to the increasing needs, the experts noted after touring reception centers on the islands, the mainland and a central Athens park where over the past three weeks 500 Afghans are living with no shelter.
The UNHCR considers there is an emergency situation in Greece today regarding new arrivals of refugees, because local authorities do not have the capacity to address the challenge alone, Cocherel said, adding that emergencies require bold and immediate action.
"We fully recognize that Greece is in a difficult financial situation, but we are not talking about a developing country," he stressed, noting that the key problem in Greece was "lack of coordination" among different levels of authority to face the challenges.
In Cameroon for example refugees are receiving the level of assistance, medical aid and food that is not seen in Greece, the expert said, underlining that the situation in Greece was "abnormal."
"What we experienced on a daily basis on the islands is chaos, lack of organization," he said, insisting that this is a "manageable challenge."
Greece needs to increase its reception capacity, Cocherel said.
"It is not normal that after six years of support by the European Commission Greece has only 1,100 places in second line reception capacity," he noted.
In contrast to the strong criticism regarding the handling of the crisis by local officials, the UNHCR officials expressed admiration for the mobilization and support provided by ordinary Greek citizens who volunteer to offer a helping hand to refugees.
The UNHCR officials finally called on the EU institutions, agencies and member states to provide more robust assistance immediately to Greece to effectively deal with the crisis. "Greece needs more assistance and solidarity," they said.