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Refugee Crisis in Greece: UNHCR Officials call for urgent and bold action from Greece and the EU

31 July 2015

© UNHCR/S. Nanou

In a media briefing held today in Athens, at the end of their mission to Greece, UNHCR’s Director of the Bureau for Europe, Vincent Cochetel, and  Director of Emergency, Security and Supply, Terry Morel, urged the Greek government to take stronger steps to address the refugee crisis unfolding in the country. This year alone, more than 107,000 persons, mainly refugees, have arrived, fleeing from conflict and violence.   The reception infrastructure, services and registration procedures are falling far short of real needs. The UNHCR Officials also called on the EU institutions, agencies and Member States to provide urgent and robust support to Greece. 

During their five day visit to Greece, the delegation visited Lesvos, Kos and Chios, where they met with local officials, NGOs, volunteers and refugees. The delegation visited reception centres and the sites where recent arrivals are accommodated.  They then met with Government officials in Athens and visited a detention centre and Pedion tou Areos park, where some 500 Afghans, including many families, are concentrated.

Vincent Cochetel highlighted: “This humanitarian emergency is happening in Europe; and Europe has to respond. Bold and immediate action from the Greek government and the local authorities as well as the EU is required. Such a level of suffering should and can be avoided. We spoke with a couple from Damascus who had barely survived the boat journey. We saw a five-day-old baby from Afghanistan and met people who had travelled with crutches and wheelchairs. Their urgent needs should be met in a humane, consistent and dignified manner.” 

“We are aware of the economic crisis Greece is grappling with; but the Greek government does have obligations to these people who have already suffered so much and are in need of international protection. The EU needs to support Greece, both financially and technically, and increase the solidarity measures beyond those already agreed within the European Agenda on Migration” said Cochetel. “Increasing opportunities for speedy family reunification is one example of what can be done”.

Numerous humanitarian emergencies, including the Syria situation, are woefully underfunded, nevertheless UNHCR is contributing to the efforts to address the urgent situation. This includes interpretation services, providing legal information, transportation and basic emergency assistance, such as water, sleeping bags and hygiene kits.

The delegation expressed admiration for the invaluable assistance and support provided by the local communities and volunteers. Without their efforts the situation would be even worse. 

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