Reuters — Greece said on Monday its infrastructure was insufficient to cope with the waves of refugees flowing into the country in one of the worst humanitarian crises Europe has faced since the World War Two.
In the throes of its worst economic meltdown in generations, Greece has been plunged into a new crisis in the making with a mass influx of refugees, mainly Syrians fleeing civil war.
International aid agencies have been scathing about Greece’s response. The U.N. refugee agency said last week said Greece needed to show more leadership and take charge of the situation.
Arrivals as a whole have exceeded 160,000 this year, three times as high as in 2014, and overstretched and under-financed, Greek authorities have been caught flat-footed.
“This is a reception country, and as such we are obliged to have infrastructure in place,” Olga Gerovasili, spokeswoman for Greece’s outgoing leftist Syriza government.
“But we are accused of things we didn’t have time to do, what all the (previous) governments didn’t do in recent years,” she told Greece’s Alpha TV.
The country is heading to elections after seven months of Syriza in power. Under Syriza’s watch, it dismantled Amygdaleza, a migrant detention centre Greece had been criticised about by international human rights’ organisations in the past.
However, some acknowledged Greece was just part of the problem. Facing what the European Commission says is the worst refugee crisis since the war, European governments are bickering over how to deal with record numbers of migrants.
“This is not just a Greek tragedy, but a Europe-wide crisis,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy eirector for Europe and Central Asia.
“It is unfolding before the eyes of short-sighted European leaders who prioritise securing borders over helping survivors of conflict,” he said.
On the Greek island of Lesbos one aid group said there had been a massive increase in arrivals over the past 10 days.
“In excess of 2,000 have arrived daily on the island. This is twice as many as arrived in the whole of Greece each day during most of the summer,” said Kirk Day, field director on Lesbos of the International Rescue Committee.
Sometimes arrivals have been as high as 3,000, he said.
“This has put unprecedented stress on the struggling relief effort, jeopardising the well-being of refugees and adding additional burden on local communities.”
Greece is not the closest EU member state to Syria, but it has more exit routes across mainland Europe.
Some 2,500 more mainly Syrian refugees were transferred by ferry to the Greek mainland on Monday in an attempt to ease overcrowding on outlying islands, including Lesbos.
It is the fourth shuttle since the service began, taking at least 10,000 to the mainland.
Most, bussed to an Athens train station and left there, make their way up to Macedonia, through Serbia and from there on to visa-free travel in the European Union.
“I’m here because of my children, there is a future here but there is no future (in Syria),” said 18-year-old Shireen, a history student from Al-Hasakha who carried her 10-month-old daughter off the boat.