Half million refugees, migrants arrive in Greece: UNHCR

Geneva, Oct 20 (IANS) The number of refugee and migrant arrivals to Greece has hit half a million, warning of continued chaos unless migrant reception in Greece is strengthened and relocation is expedited, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.

“In Greece, the number of sea arrivals this year has passed the half-million mark with the arrival yesterday (Monday) on the Aegean islands of nearly 8,000 people, bringing the total to some 502,500,” Melissa Fleming, UNHCR spokesperson said.

“The total number of arrivals so far in Europe via the Mediterranean is now over 643,000,” Fleming said.

She said the spike in arrivals in Greece is sharply increasing pressure on reception centres on the islands. Many of the refugees and migrants are desperate to quickly move onwards, fearing subsequent borders will close.

“It is of utmost importance here, as in other parts of Europe, that reception conditions be adequate to the task. Without this essential element, the relocation programme agreed by Europe in September is in serious peril and may fail,” she added.

According to UNHCR, after chaotic and miserable scenes over the past few days, borders along the Balkan routes have reopened.

At least 123 people have died or gone missing in Greek territorial waters so far this year (in all, at least 3,135 have perished in the Mediterranean to date in 2015).

UNHCR expressed concern over the potential for this number to rise further as people try to beat the onset of winter and fears of new border closures.

UNHCR urged search and rescue operations be further strengthened in the area to reduce risks.

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