UN official: Migrant numbers in Greece could triple in six weeks

The number of migrants stranded in Greece as a result of border closures in the Balkans could more than triple over the next six weeks, a senior official from UN Refugee Agency UNHCR warned on Friday.

"As we are now, by the middle of April we are likely to have 100,000 people in the territory of Greece," UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations George Okoth-Obbo said in Rome, warning of a "humanitarian crisis" requiring international mobilization.

Okoth-Obbo was speaking at a conference held by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a Vienna-based European security and democracy watchdog.

In a separate written statement, UNHCR calculated the number of migrants currently stranded in Greece at around 30,000, including a third at the Idomeni border point with Macedonia, and described the situation as "quickly deteriorating."

"We are running out of time, and strong leadership and vision are urgently needed from European leaders to deal with what is, in my view, a situation that can still be managed if properly addressed," UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said in the statement.

"This is as much a crisis of European solidarity as it is a refugee crisis," Grandi added.

He noted that Europe "successfully dealt with large-scale refugee movements in the past, during the Balkans Wars for example, and can deal with this one, provided it acts in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility sharing."

A third UNHCR official, Vincent Cochetel, took issue with suggestions that illegal immigrants make up a significant part of the migration flow into Greece.

Cochetel said the overwhelming majority of people come from war-torn countries, including 48 per cent of Syrians, 26 per cent of Afghans and 17 per cent of Iraqis.

"Ninety-one per cent of the people arriving in Greece are coming from those three major crises. So to call them irregular migrants is a bit of a shortcut," Cochetel told reporters in Brussels.

"I'm getting a bit tired to hear about irregular migrants when we are talking about Syrians fleeing from Aleppo," Cochetel said.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

More from Europe

Northern Irish court dismisses first legal challenges to Brexit

A court in Northern Ireland on Friday dismissed the first legal challenges to Britain's plans to leave the European...

Survey: German entrepreneurs want to expand business in Russia

Despite recession and sanctions, German companies want to expand their businesses in Russia, according to a recent...

Sweden denies Assange temporary leave to attend funeral

A request by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for temporary leave to attend a funeral for a close associate in...

OPEC meets in Vienna to discuss possible freeze on production

Members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) met Friday in Vienna for talks about a possible...

Midwife sentenced to 15 years for trying to kill pregnant women

A 35-year-old midwife was found guilty Friday of seven counts of attempted murder and handed 15 years in prison for...