By Stephanie Nebehay
The rate of refugee arrivals on Greece’s islands has leapt to 7,000 a day from about 4,500 at the end of September, probably because of fears that the weather will worsen soon, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday.
“From what we can see, the numbers are going to be stable (at this level) as long as weather conditions permit,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a news briefing.
“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.”
So far this year, 526,797 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe, mainly to Italy and Greece, while more than 3,000 have drowned, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres will go to Lesbos, one of the main entry points for people coming by sea from Turkey, on Saturday and hold talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens in coming days, spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing.
“The drama on the Greek island continues unabated,” she said, adding that Guterres would visit Greek reception centres.
The UNHCR welcomed the start of an EU programme 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.
“The relocations are an important step toward stabilising the refugee crisis in Europe. However, more needs to be done,” Fleming said.
The agency hoped that relocation would start soon for refugees in Greece, she said.
“It’s just significant that it has begun and it’s a procedure that works. I think it will be a slow start but it will accelerate once the process starts functioning.”