July 10, 2015 / 10:00 AM / in 2 years

U.N. urges EU to step in and help Greece with migrant crisis

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations refugee agency said on Friday that Greece urgently needed help to cope with 1,000 migrants arriving each day and called on the European Union (EU) to step in before the humanitarian situation deteriorates further.

More than 77,000 people have arrived by sea to Greece so far this year, more than 60 percent of them Syrians, with others fleeing Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Somalia, it said.

“The volatile economic situation, combined with the increasing numbers of new arrivals, is putting severe strain on small island communities,” William Spindler of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told a briefing.

Local authorities on islands including Lesvos, where the situation is “particularly dire”, are unable to handle the massive flow, he said, while noting that most refugees move on through Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary after registering with Greek police.

“We would expect the EU to activate its emergency response because Greece is part of the European Union. This is happening in Europe, on the doorstep of Europe,” Spindler said. “Greece urgently needs help and we expect Europe to step forward.”

An estimated 150,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea so far in 2015, most of them in Greece and Italy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said. More than 1,900 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean, twice the toll during the period last year, spokesman Joel Millman said.

Twelve migrants died on Thursday when their overcrowded rubber dinghy sank off the coast of Libya, the Italian Coast Guard said, while some 500 were rescued in the latest episodes in the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

“We are concerned there may be other bodies recovered today and over the weekend,” Millman said.

(The story corrects year from 2014 to 2015 in sixth paragraph)

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh Lawson; editing by Ralph Boulton

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