The number of refugees crossing into Europe through the Mediterranean has crossed 131,000 in January and February this year, more than the total for the first half of 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Tuesday. The latest figure comes as the rapid buildup of refugees stuck at Greece's northern borders gives rise to risks of a humanitarian disaster.
“Europe is on the cusp of a largely self-induced humanitarian crisis,” the U.N. refugee agency warned in a statement. “Inconsistent practices are causing unnecessary suffering and risk being at variance with EU and international law standards.”
Nearly 131,724 people made their journey through the Mediterranean to Europe, with 122,637 of them landing in Greece, the agency said, adding that so far, 410 lives have been lost while attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.
“Solving Europe's refugees and migrants situation and preventing a new crisis in Greece requires a number of clear actions,” the agency said. “Among the most urgent of these when it comes to Greece is the need for better contingency planning, with increased accommodation capacity and other support. The authorities are trying to respond now to prevent a further deterioration of conditions throughout Greece. But, more resources and better coordination are critical for averting wider suffering and chaos,” it added.
Despite winter conditions, refugees have continued to enter Europe in huge numbers, fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, adding to Europe's worst such crisis since the Second World War.
UNHCR, in its latest update, urged Greek authorities to work closely with the European Asylum Support Office and EU member states to strongly reinforce its capacity to register and process asylum-seekers through the national asylum procedure, as well as through the European relocation scheme.
The agency also shed light on the situation where despite commitments to relocate 66,400 refugees from Greece, EU member states have “so far only pledged 1,539 spaces, and only 325 actual relocations have occurred.”