October 9, 2015 / 9:30 AM / 3 years ago

Refugee arrivals surge in Greece with bad weather ahead: IOM

GENEVA (Reuters) - The number of refugees arriving on Greek islands has leapt to 7,000 a day from about 4,500 at the end of September, probably because of fears the weather will worsen soon, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday.

Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) speaks to media about the refugee crisis in Europe, following their bilateral meeting at the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, September 4, 2015. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The sharp increase, in a matter of days, has come as European states continue to struggle to agree on a strategy to control the flow of people and protect thousands making perilous sea crossings.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, urged the European Union on Friday to come up with a credible system soon, and warned that the unpredictable weather could lead to more deaths.

“This is a chaotic situation that is terrible for the countries, creates tension among countries and that at the same time is horrible for the people,” Guterres told a news conference on the eve of a visit to Greece which includes talks with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday.

“All of a sudden with the kind of weather that you have in Balkans this can be a tragedy at any moment. And there is no easy response to that unless you have a mechanism to control things from the starting point,” he said.


On Saturday, he will visit reception centers on the Greek island of Lesbos, the main entry point for most of the 428,000 people who have crossed the Mediterranean from Turkey so far this year.

Almost 3,000 have died, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR estimates. Authorities on the island say they are running out of room to bury them.

Many of the arrivals are Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis fleeing war and persecution.

IOM said it expected the elevated rate of 7,000 arrivals a day would persist as long as the weather held out.

“The pattern has been over the last two years that the worse the waters and the colder the weather, the fewer people are willing to make the trip,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told journalists.

Hungary will decide in a week whether to close its border with Croatia, where a double fence to stop a massive flow of migrants through the country is “99 percent finished,” a top government official said on Thursday.

The UNHCR welcomed the start of an EU program to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other participating EU countries, as a first group of 19 Eritrean asylum seekers left Italy for Sweden.

“But it is obvious that we need a much bigger capacity and system,” Guterres said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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