UNHCR of­fi­cial to Athens: ‘wake up’

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

Greek author­i­ties need to “wake up” and start deal­ing with the on­go­ing immigration cri­sis as though it were a “nat­u­ral dis­as­ter,” the Europe Bureau di­rec­tor of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Vin­cent Co­chetel, said yesterday.

Co­chetel was speak­ing at a news con­fer­ence af­ter a tour of the is­lands of Lesvos and Kos, as well as parts of Athens, where he as­sessed the Greek author­i­ties’ re­sponse to an un­prece­dented in­flux of mi­grants and refugees, mainly from war-torn Syria and Afghanistan.

He said his tour re­vealed that re­cep­tion fa­cil­i­ties both on the is­lands and the Greek cap­i­tal are “bad,” and ac­cused lo­cal author­i­ties of fail­ing to pro­vide in­com­ing refugees with essen­tials such as shel­ter, elec­tric­ity and run­ning wa­ter. The sit­u­a­tion is not much bet­ter in Athens, said Co­chetel, who vis­ited a makeshift camp at the down­town Pe­dion to Areos park that has be­come home to dozens of Afghans and Syr­i­ans over the past few weeks.

“There are so many empty build­ings in this coun­try, so much land not cul­ti­vated,” Co­chetel said. “Don’t tell me it’s im­pos­si­ble to find a site for those peo­ple.”

Co­chetel con­ceded that the cri­sis has put a strain of state fi­nances and that ar­rivals are up, with an es- ti­mated 1,000 mi­grants and refugees land­ing on Greek shores ev­ery day. How­ever, he added, there ap­pears to be re­luc­tance among lo­cal of­fi­cials to ef­fec­tively deal with the in­flux.

“We need to step up the emer­gency re­sponse again as if it was a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter,” Co­chetel said.

He was also crit­i­cal of Greece’s EU peers, say­ing that they should do more to take some of the pres­sure off the cash-strapped coun­try.

Delia Vel­culescu, the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund’s en­voy to Greece, gets into a car af­ter meet­ing Bank of Greece Gover­nor Yan­nis Stournaras yesterday. She and her peers in the ‘quadriga’ of lenders also met gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

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