Record 48k migrants land in Greece over five days

Refugees and migrants arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on Thursday. Greece has seen an unprecedented number of asylum-seekers landing in the past five days - nearly 10,000 per day - despite quickly dete
Refugees and migrants arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on Thursday. Greece has seen an unprecedented number of asylum-seekers landing in the past five days - nearly 10,000 per day - despite quickly deteriorating weather conditions.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

But Russian air strikes in Syria not cause of influx: UN

GENEVA • Greece has seen a record 48,000 migrants and refugees land on its shores in the space of just five days, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said, but the United Nations refugee agency said that Russian air strikes in Syria had not caused any significant refugee exodus.

IOM said yesterday that the latest surge of people arriving in Greece was the highest weekly total so far this year, bringing the number of Mediterranean migrant arrivals in Europe to 681,000.

"Despite deteriorating weather conditions, approximately 48,000 refugees and migrants crossed from Turkey to the Greek islands, or about 9,600 migrants and refugees in each of the past five days," the IOM said, referring to the period between Oct 17 and Oct 21.

"The influx has left many local authorities unprepared," it added.

More than half of those crossing from Turkey had landed on the island of Lesbos, which saw 27,276 arrivals in the five-day period, it said.

The rising numbers of people attempting the crossing to Greece has resulted in a growing number of deaths at sea, the organisation said.

So far this year, around 335 people have died while crossing from Turkey to Greece, the IOM said. More than 2,800 have died while attempting the crossing from Libya to Italy, bringing the total number of deaths to 3,175, the IOM said.

Mr Amin Awad, the Middle East director for UN refugee agency UNHCR, said Russian air strikes and increased fighting around the Syrian city of Aleppo had not contributed much to the refugee exodus. "The latest fighting, whether ground fighting or air strikes, did not contribute too much to exodus across the international border to make them refugees," Mr Awad told a UN briefing in Geneva.

But Turkey is preparing for tens of thousands more refugees from Syria as government forces and Russian planes pound opposition-held areas. Syrian government troops and their allies, backed by Russian jets, launched an offensive against rebel groups a week ago.

Estimates of the overall numbers on the move ranged between a UNHCR figure of 30,000 and as many as 100,000.

"We are preparing our teams for a new wave. We have mobile kitchens, food packaged," said Mr Kerem Kinik, vice-president of the Turkish Red Crescent.

The situation had worsened since the Russian air strikes, he added.

Both Mr Kinik and a senior Turkish government official said many would try to smuggle themselves on to Europe.

"Migrants who came to Turkey in the past had the hope of returning and saw Turkey as a temporary home," the official said, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media. "Now it has become a transit location. The final destination is Europe... which is why steps must be taken to restore calm in Syria."

Turkey is already sheltering more than 2.2 million refugees.

In Paris, more than 1,300 migrants were moved out of a disused school yesterday, where they had spent months in increasingly rough conditions.

Police transported the group from the school in buses, taking them to hostels and special accommodation around Paris. City authorities said a total of 1,308 people left the dilapidated building.

"I don't know where we're going, but it has to be better than here... Here, there were too many fights," said a Moroccan man.

The authorities ruled last month that they had to leave. "The situation deteriorated over the past two weeks with serious crimes, a deterioration of health conditions and violence," said Paris' police chief.

The building was first occupied in late July, with numbers growing rapidly from around 100 to more than 1,000. It was the last big migrant camp in Paris after the removal of two others over the summer.

The migrants will be housed in a dozen centres for a month while they decide whether to lodge asylum claims.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2015, with the headline 'Record 48k migrants land in Greece over five days'. Print Edition | Subscribe