Refugee crisis in Greek islands ‘total chaos’

A baby rescued from the migrant boat that sank on Wednesday. Picture: Getty

A baby rescued from the migrant boat that sank on Wednesday. Picture: Getty

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The refugee crisis on the Greek islands of Kos, Chios and Lesbos is “total chaos”, the UN refugee agency UNHCR says, with inadequate accommodation, water and sanitation.

Around 50,000 people arrived in Greece in July alone, the organisation says.

The principle of solidarity cannot be addressed a la carte

Alexis Tsipras

In Athens, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras said the migration challenge is beyond the nation’s resources as it struggles with an economic crisis, and that the EU is not doing enough to help.

“The European Union has no point if it is just a union of separate countries that each looks out for its own interests,” he said.

The EU appealed yesterday to member countries to live up to pledges to provide planes and other assets so that its border agency can help Greece and Hungary cope with a migrant influx.

EU leaders committed in April to triple the Frontex agency’s budget and provide it with more assets as thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty head to Europe in search of better lives.

“If we don’t get these assets, it would seriously undermine Frontex’s ability to carry out its operations,” an EU migration spokeswoman said.

Many countries had pledged to provide assets for short-term use, but the spokeswoman added more planes and “technical assistance” including personnel and patrol cars are needed for Greece and Hungary.

The International Organisation for Migration said yesterday that more than 192,000 migrants had arrived in Europe by sea this year. More than 2,000 are believed to have died attempting the perilous Mediterranean crossing.

Frontex said that almost 50,000 migrants arrived in the EU in July via Greece, compared to 41,700 in all of 2014. That currently makes it the most used entry point in Europe for migrants, most of whom come from Syria and Afghanistan.

Gil Arias Fernandez, the deputy director of Frontex, said the agency would struggle to help Greece and Hungary “unless we receive the necessary equipment”. The border agency is considering leasing private aircraft, but the EU wants nations to provide the resources.

More than 110,000 migrants have arrived in Hungary this year, nearly all walking across the southern border with Serbia. Prime minister Viktor Orban said a 13ft high fence being built there by the Hungarian army will be finished by 31 August.

The appeal from Brussels is a fresh sign of Europe’s inability to manage the influx and share out refugees who arrive.

It comes as incidents multiply involving migrants in France who want to go to Britain.
Mr Tsipras deplored the insistence of some European countries that the distribution of refugees among them to be voluntary rather than obligatory.

“The principle of solidarity cannot be addressed a la carte and in a voluntary fashion by a series of countries,” he said. 
Roberta Metsola, the lead European parliamentarian on migration, called for “a seismic shift” in EU thinking.

“We cannot let history judge us as the generation who stood by and talked while people died,” she said.

Separately, Italian police arrested five suspected traffickers over the deaths of about 200 people after a migrant boat sank on Wednesday.

They included two Libyans, two Algerians and a Tunisian, held on suspicion of multiple murder and people trafficking.

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