Nearly 21,000 migrants arrived in Greece last week: UN
GENEVA - Agence France-Presse
A migrant woman reacts while hugging her son after safely arriving to the shores of the Greek island of Kos on August 18, 2015. AFP PhotoNearly 21,000 refugees and migrants arrived in crisis-hit Greece last week -- nearly half the total number in all of 2014 -- the United Nations said on August 18.
"The pace of arrivals has been steadily increasing in recent weeks," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters in Geneva, bringing the number to over 160,000 since the beginning of the year.
Between January 1 and August 14, 158,456 refugees and migrants crossed the Aegean from Turkey to the Greek islands, while another 1,716 came over the land border, the UN refugee agency said.
Last month alone, 50,242 arrived in Greece, outnumbering all arrivals in 2014, Spindler said.
More than eight out of 10 were Syrians fleeing their country's brutal civil war, he said, adding that Afghans made up 14 percent of the wave and Iraqis three percent.
This, he said, confirms "that the overwhelming majority of arrivals are likely to qualify for refugee status."
Until recently, most migrants making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe travelled to Italy, but dangers and logistical difficulties have in recent months shifted the flood increasingly towards Greece.
But when they arrive on Greek islands facing Turkey there is little if anything for them and most have been forced to sleep outdoors in squalid conditions, and tensions have been running high.
The Greek island of Kos, which last week saw chaotic scenes of overwhelmed police beating migrants with truncheons and spraying them with fire extinguishers at a sports stadium where they were gathered, has come to symbolise Europe's shambolic response to the refugee crisis.
"For months, UNHCR has been warning of a mounting refugee crisis on the Greek islands," Spindler said, insisting the "reception infrastructure, services and registration procedures both on the islands and on the mainland need to be strengthened urgently."
The debt-ravaged country is taking steps to address the problem, but has said the huge influx is too much for it to handle alone and has pleaded for more EU help.
Spindler agreed that Europe needed to do more.
"Rather than dealing with the situation on one island, we need to deal with the situation in the whole region, not just Greece," he said, claiming that "the vast majority" of the migrants aimed to travel on to northern Europe.
Spindler acknowledged that Athens lacks resources, but insisted the authorities needed to do more to organise the response.
"The government of Greece has the responsibility of what happens on its territory. We are ready to help them... but they need to show much more leadership," he said.