Tsipras seeks EU help to tackle influx of immigrants

A dinghy overcrowded with Afghan immigrants approaching the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece on Thursday. According to the United Nations refugee agency, 50,000 immigrants arrived in Greece in t
A dinghy overcrowded with Afghan immigrants approaching the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece on Thursday. According to the United Nations refugee agency, 50,000 immigrants arrived in Greece in the last month alone.PHOTO: REUTERS

ATHENS • Greece's infrastructure cannot handle the thousands of immigrants landing on its shores from places like war-torn Syria and Afghanistan and the country needs European Union help, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said yesterday.

"Now is the time to see if the EU is the EU of solidarity or an EU that has everyone trying to protect their borders," he said after a meeting with ministers dealing with the influx. The United Nations refugee agency, or UNHCR, earlier called on Greece to take control of the "total chaos" on the Mediterranean islands, where thousands of immigrants have landed.

EU member states must also do more to share the burden of Greece, where 50,000 people arrived in the last month alone, said Mr Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR director for Europe, after visiting the Greek islands of Lesbos, Kos and Chios.

Greece and Italy have been on the front line of a huge wave of immigrants seeking safety and a better future in Europe.

But Greece's economy is falling into recession again after having only just recovered from six years of depression brought on by the country's debt crisis.

It is currently negotiating with the EU and the International Monetary Fund for a third bailout of as much as €86 billion (S$130 billion) to stave off a financial collapse.

With that background, it cannot handle the increasing pressure from thousands of refugees fleeing from war and poverty.

According to Reuters, within just one hour on Thursday, two boatloads of refugees landed on the island of Lesbos, with one carrying about 40 Syrians, and the other the same number of Afghans.

The EU has sought to share the burden of the refugees across its countries, but the response has been mixed.

Britain has said it will not participate, but is currently struggling with its own crisis as thousands of immigrants seek to enter via the Channel Tunnel.

Hungary is preparing to build a fence along its border, where immigrants from the east seek to enter.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'Tsipras seeks EU help to tackle influx of immigrants'. Print Edition | Subscribe