The United Nations refugee agency said today that, despite adverse weather conditions, refugee and migrant arrivals in Greece this year are expected to hit the 400,000 mark soon.
Greece remains by far the largest single entry point for new sea arrivals in the Mediterranean, followed by Italy with 131,000 arrivals so far in 2015, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
With the new figures from Greece, the total number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year is nearly 530,000. In September, 168,000 people crossed the Mediterranean, the highest monthly figure ever recorded and almost five times the number in September 2014.
“The continuing high rate of arrivals underlines the need for a fast implementation of Europe’s relocation programme, jointly with the establishment of robust facilities to receive, assist, register and screen all people arriving by sea. These are steps needed for stabilizing the crisis,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
He said there was a “noticeable drop” in sea arrivals this week, along with the change in the weather. From an average of around 5,000 arrivals per day recently, it has fallen to some 3,300 over the past six days with just 1,500 yesterday. “Nevertheless, any improvement in the weather is likely to bring another surge in sea arrivals,” he cautioned.
The current cooler, windy weather has made the crossing from Turkey to Greece even more perilous, he said, noting a number of rescue operations in recent days. At least 102 people have died or gone missing in Greek waters this year. In all, nearly 3,000 people have died or gone missing this year crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
“The pace and scale of the movement into Greece continues to put enormous pressure on the Government and many communities,” said Mr. Edwards. “While authorities have worked to improve reception and registration facilities and operations in the islands, bottlenecks still occur.”
He added that in spite of these efforts, the registration process should be enhanced and be fully consistent with applicable European Union norms for all arrivals.
“UNHCR is concerned that the lack of reception capacity in Greece could seriously jeopardize the relocation programme agreed upon by the European Council, as eligible refugees have nowhere to stay while awaiting relocation. If this is not immediately addressed secondary movements to neighbouring countries are likely to continue.”