Thursday 29 September 2016

Greece seeks EU aid as it struggles to cope with migrant crisis

* Greece requests EU humanitarian aid, staff
* Minister says situation "wretched" on Lesbos
* Says more ships to bring refugees to Greek mainland

Karolina Tagaris

Published 07/09/2015 | 20:35

A young Syrian boy, wrapped with a thermal blanket, arrives with others after crossing aboard a dinghy from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
A young Syrian boy, wrapped with a thermal blanket, arrives with others after crossing aboard a dinghy from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
A volunteer helps a Syrian boy as he arrives with others on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Syrian refugees react as they arrive after crossing aboard a dinghy from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Refugees and migrants take part in a protest to demand faster processing by local authorities of their registration and the issuing of travel documents, at the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
Syrian migrants arrive at the coast on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey, at the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
A Syrian refugee holding her child is comforted moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015 REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis

Greece asked the European Union for aid on Monday to prevent it being overwhelmed by refugees, as a minister said arrivals on Lesbos had swollen to three times as many as the island could handle.

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Its economy already stretched close to breaking point, Greece is struggling to cope with thousands of people, mainly from Syria, fleeing poverty and war.

Interim Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas said 15,000 to 18,000 refugees were on Lesbos, an island he said could cope with 4,000-5,000. "The situation is wretched," he told state TV.

Tensions have flared on the islands of Lesbos and Kos, short boat journeys from Turkey where there are some 2 million Syrian refugees.

A Syrian refugee girl cries as she is aided to disembark from a dinghy, moments after arriving on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015.
REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis
A Syrian refugee girl cries as she is aided to disembark from a dinghy, moments after arriving on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis

Read more here: Britain to take in up to 20,000 refugees from camps near the borders of war-torn Syria until 2020  

The International Rescue Committee said protests on the streets of Lesbos were putting the lives and safety of refugees stranded on the island at risk.

"We are truly in the midst of a humanitarian disaster," said Kirk Day, the aid agency's field director on the island.

He said many refugees had been stuck on the island for weeks, people were sleeping rough and hygiene was rapidly declining.

"None of these things can be addressed with this many people here ... The only way forward is to move these people off the island immediately," Day said.

Greece earlier asked the EU to activate its crisis-response body to provide staff, medical and pharmaceutical supplies, clothes and equipment, the Interior Ministry said.

Volunteers help a Syrian refugee (C) that collapsed moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis
Volunteers help a Syrian refugee (C) that collapsed moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis

Read more here: The refugee crisis must spark the pursuit of a more just world  

It has also applied to the EU Commission for 9.6 million euros in emergency funding to bolster existing reception operations on the islands of Lesbos, Samos and Kos and in the Turkish border region of Evros, and to help set up a new centre on the island of Chios.

The health ministry said it had sent extra medical staff to Lesbos and Kos and extended the operating hours of health centres on the islands.

VOLATILE SITUATION

A Syrian refugee wearing a life jacket and armbands reacts moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Reuters/Dimitris Michalakis
A Syrian refugee wearing a life jacket and armbands reacts moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 7, 2015. Reuters/Dimitris Michalakis

On Monday morning, the coastguard, aided by a passenger ferry, rescued 61 migrants whose inflatable boat ran into trouble off Lesbos.

A Greek ferry unloaded 2,500 migrants at the port of Piraeus, bringing the total number of people moved to the mainland since last Monday to more than 15,000.

Read more here: Private convoy collects hundreds of tired migrants  

Thousands more are waiting to be identified and ferried to Athens, from where most head northwest to other European countries, many via Greece's border with Macedonia.

Mouzalas said the government planned to move 12,000 refugees from Lesbos over the next five days by increasing the number of ships ferrying people to Athens from three to four or five.

It will also set up reception and registration centres and convert some ships into temporary homes for refugees, many of whom are sleeping rough on the islands' streets.

"We can't solve the problem but we can provide solutions to alleviate it," he said.

Read more here: No upper limit on refugee number Ireland can take: Tánaiste  

Earlier on Monday, Greece requested that the EU civil protection mechanism be activated "in order to substantially strengthen the efforts ... to manage a volatile situation".

The mechanism coordinates the bloc's humanitarian aid efforts, channeling aid and sending special teams with equipment to disaster areas. It has previously helped Greece fight forest fires.

On Friday, European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans and Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos have already promised Athens 33 million euros ($36.8 million) to help it tackle the crisis.

Reuters

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