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 >  Greek lifestyle  >  Greece under fire over refugees

Greece under fire over aid for refugees

- by Andy Cornish

Greece has come in for strong criticism of 'shameful' conditions for refugees landing in the Greek Islands after fleeing war zones in the Middle East.

Holiday visitors to the islands of Kos, Lesvos and Chios are unlikely to come across refugees first hand while on holiday in the island but it is no estimated that around 50,000 have made the sea journey from Turkey to Greece in July.

On a visit to the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios and Kos, the UNs High Commissioner for European Refugees (UNHCR) Vincent Cochetel called the situation "chaotic".

News agencies reported that the commissioner had never seen a situation like this in his 30-year affiliation with the UN and described the treatment of refugees "shameful".

"In terms of water, in terms of sanitation, in terms of food assistance, it's totally inadequate. On most of the islands, there is no reception capacity, people are not sleeping under any form of roof," he said.

And he added "It's total chaos on the islands. After a couple of days, they are transferred to Athens and there is nothing waiting for them."

To be fair, the Greek Islands have been swamped with sailing boats carrying refugees across the Aegean. In 2014, the total number entering Greece for the whole year was 43,500.

By June more than 68,000 refugees and migrants had entered the country and the 50,000 in July has taken the number well over the 100,000 mark with no sign of any let-up in the influx.

Earlier this month the Greek government held a crisis meeting on the refugee problem. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras commented: "Greece is in a crisis within a crisis."

It is estimated that more than two million refugees old be making their way across Turkey to reach Greece, with 85% of them from war-torn regions such as Syria.

Kos, Lesvos and Chios are the main targets for boats carrying refugees into Greece and all three islands have struggled to find accommodation for them until they can be transferred to Athens.

Many have been housed in derelict hotels without food, water to sanitation. Reports from Lesvos say fighting has broken out over food deliveries to a refugee settlement where 2,500 people are living.

On the holiday island of Kos scores of refugees landing on small boats are escorted daily to the police station to get permits allowing them to stay in Greece for up to six months, process that takes 10-15 days.

Wealthier ones rent apartments, but those without money either sleep rough or stay in an abandoned hotel, which has been transformed into a refugee camp before being transferred to the mainland.

These three islands are not the only ones experiencing a refugee problem. Samos and Leros are also struggling to cope with numbers.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the migration crisis in Greece and other countries is a European problem and should be dealt as such with more financial aid and more countries willing to accept their fair share of refugees.

Officials in both Brussels and Athens warn that Greece is in need of financial support to handle the refugee arrivals and estimate that 130,500 have entered the country iso far this year.

The UK is one of only three European countries, along with Austria and Hungary, that refuses to take part in a scheme aimed at sharing out up to 40,000 asylum seekers arriving in Greece and Italy.