As the number of refugee and migrant arrivals in Greece hits half a million, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned today of continuing “chaos” at overburdened reception centres – possibly threatening to undo Europe’s recently-agreed relocation programme – unless reception conditions in frontline islands are improved.
“The spike in arrivals in Greece is sharply increasing reception pressures on the islands,” said UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming at the bi-weekly press briefing in Geneva. “Many of the refugees and migrants are desperate to quickly move onwards, fearing that borders ahead of them will close.”
“As of this morning, there were more than 27,500 people on the islands – either awaiting registration or onward transport to the mainland,” she continued.
“Additional police had to be called in on Sunday and yesterday to control the chaotic situation,” she said referring to an incident in which frustration amongst refugees and migrants boiled over at a reception centre on Lesvos, leading to the evacuation of UNHCR staff and the temporary suspension of processing.
Ms. Fleming emphasized that it was important that reception centres in Greece and other parts of Europe be up to the task. “Without this essential element, the relocation programme agreed by Europe in September is in serious peril and may fail,” she cautioned.
She also noted that Balkan routes for refugees and migrants had reopened after “chaotic and miserable scenes.”
“On the Serbian border with Croatia, some 3,000 people were left waiting amid uncertainty in the rain from Sunday until late Monday afternoon without shelter, and with minimal assistance on hand,” said Ms. Fleming.
“UNHCR staff and staff of our partner organizations provided what support they could at such short notice including food, water, and blankets. But many people, including the elderly, pregnant women and several physically handicapped people, were soaked through and instances of hypothermia were reported. There was similar misery on the Croatia-Slovenia border.”
An additional 4,300 people had arrived in Austria from Slovenia Monday and, in Austria and Germany, Ms. Fleming noted that tens of thousands of refugees and migrants were sleeping in tents and temporary shelters because of accommodation shortages.
She also spoke about the number of deaths at sea of refugees and migrants, noting that19 people, including infants and children, had died in the past nine days in five separate incidents, almost half of these over the weekend. In total, at least 3,135 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2015, she added.
To address the situation, UNHCR recommends that various measures of stabilization are needed in countries of first asylum and all countries of secondary movements.
These measures include support to countries hosting the majority of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees; an information campaign informing of the dangers of the sea journey; and the development of legal pathways to seek protection in Europe. In countries of secondary movement, significant efforts must be made to develop a robust reception and registration capacity.