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Surge of refugees overwhelms Greece and Europe

Migrants arrive at the coast on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey, at the southeastern island of Kos, Greece, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

The number of refugees seeking safety in Europe is quickly escalating, and countries are struggling to deal with the influx. The latest wave is hitting economically troubled Greece particularly hard. Neighboring countries are helping, but the U.N. is worried it’s not enough.

“It is unsustainable in the long run that only two EU countries – Germany and Sweden – take in the majority of refugees,” said Antonio Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, in an interview with Die Welt newspaper. “All countries in Europe have the moral responsibility to welcome them and the clear legal obligation to protect them.”

Roughly 21,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece last week, the U.N. reported yesterday, about half the total for all of 2014. The Turkish coast guard also reported rescuing more than 18,000 people crossing the Aegean Sean this past month, bringing the total rescued in 2015 to 36,511 people.

The majority of the 137,000 people crossing the Mediterranean Sea for Europe in the first six month of this year are refugees fleeing war and conflict in the Middle East. Those who make the crossing alive hope to find refuge in a European country. Most – roughly one third – end up in Germany.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy,  is expected to host 500,000 refugees by the end of the year, and may have up to 750,000, according to recent reports. Government officials recently expressed concerns about the rising number of refugees entering Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the situation may place a greater strain on Europe than the Greek debt crisis.

The number of deaths at sea are falling since April, when more than 800 people died. Improved monitoring of the seas and rescue boats in need have helped, but the high rate Mediterranean crossings persists.

To address the crisis, the U.N. and activists want European countries to do more to support refugees and do more to end the problems that cause people to flee. The total number of refugees hosted in Europe pales in comparison to the number in countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

The popular route through Italy shifted over the past year to Greece. More than 67,000 refugees arrived in Italy and Greece, respectively, in the first half of this year. More than half of the refugees arriving in Greece are from Syria, according to the U.N. Those who slip past authorities make their way to northern European countries, making it a continentwide issue.

Where do the refugees come from?
Arriving in Italy:
67,500 in first six months of 2015
– Eritrea 25 percent
– Nigeria 10 percent
– Somalia 10 percent
– Syria 7 percent
– Gambia 6 percent

Arriving in Greece:
68,000 in first six months of 2015
– Syria 57 percent
– Afghanistan 22 percent
– Iraq 5 percent

“For months, UNHCR has been warning of a mounting refugee crisis on the Greek islands,” said U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) Spokesman William Spindler to the media. “Rather than dealing with the situation on one island, we need to deal with the situation in the whole region, not just Greece.”

In addition to the pressure of the influx of refugees, there are concerns about increasing anti-foreigner rhetoric and xenophobia in Europe. The right-wing populist government in Hungary, for example, deployed military and built a fence along its border with Serbia to slow the pace of migrants and refugees entering the country.

The German Red Cross deployed to Greece to help support refugees and migrants as they arrive on the island of Lesbos, which is struggling under the weight of the worsening situation.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]