"Lack of leadership" from Greece is making refugee crisis worse

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Syrian refugees on the Greek island of Kos. Photo: UNHCR/S. Baltagiannis

The Greek government has shown a "lack of leadership" over the refugee crisis on its islands, the UN said on Tuesday, warning that local authorities have been "overwhelmed" by the situation.

In an appeal to Athens to take responsibility for what happens on its soil, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also repeated its call for the European Union to – as it put it – "wake up" to the issue.

So far this year some 160,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece, almost four times more than in 2014, the UN agency says.

Siobhán Garside has more.

The latest warning from the UN Refugee Agency follows clashes between refugees and police on the Greek island of Kos.

In recent days officers there have resorted to using tear gas to maintain control in a stadium where hundreds of people gathered for registration.

According to the UN agency, some refugees have not received even the most basic assistance from the Greek authorities after reaching the country's shores.

And it described how island police officers are exhausted after working 20-hour shifts to deal with the influx of new arrivals, who are overwhelmingly from Syria, but also from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Here's UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler:

"If the central authority would come up with leadership and vision and appoint somebody who would coordinate this response then we and other international organisations would be ready to come and help. But it is very difficult for us to start working on the ground if we do not have somebody who is in charge."

For months, UNHCR says it's been warning of a mounting refugee crisis on the Greek islands.

But it insists that the problem is one for the whole of Europe to manage, not just Greece.

In recent weeks the pace of refugee arrivals has picked up dramatically, according to the UN agency, with 160,000 people reaching Greece since the start of the year.

That number dwarfs arrivals in 2014, which UNHCR puts at 43,500, four times less than this year's figure.

Siobhán Garside, United Nations.

Duration: 1’34″

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