Refugee arrivals in Greece have surpassed half a million this year, according to the UN. The recent surge of arrivals has led to increased pressure on the EU to quickly set up so-called "hotspot" reception centers.
Over 500,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece so far this year, the United Nations reported on Tuesday. Around 8,000 came in boats on Monday alone - rushing to beat the onset of winter.
"We have reached another dramatic milestone, with the arrival yesterday (Monday) of 8,000 people, bringing the total to 502,500. Obviously we knew this was coming, but we do see a spike in arrivals in Greece," said UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
Previously, the amount of people crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe had declined sharply with the approach of freezing winter temperatures, but the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the past few days have far surpassed the peak summer arrival numbers.
"We are alarmed at how much this is continuing through the cold weather," IOM spokesman Joel Millman said. "We are reporting 25 deaths in the Aegean (Sea) this week, many of them children."
At least 3,135 people have died while making the Mediterranean crossing this year, according to UNHCR. Human traffickers in Turkey are offering "discount rates" to passengers, but are dangerously overloading boats with more and more people.
"Obviously Greece is doing what it can. It's pulling in additional police. But we need to repeat over and over again that it is of utmost importance here that reception conditions be established and be adequate to this enormous task," Fleming said.
Understaffed 'hotspot' centers
Furthermore, EU governments have fallen short of providing 700 officers to staff migrant "hotspot" reception centers in Italy and Greece. Only 291 officers have been deployed so far, said the EU's border agency, Frontex, in a statement on Tuesday.
"I hope we can move much closer to our goal. For this reason, I would like to stress that member states can continue sending their contributions even though the deadline for the call has passed," said Frontex boss Fabrice Leggeri.
Around 27,500 people are currently in transit on the Greek islands closest to Turkey. Many on the islands fear that more European borders will close, while refugees on the mainland have sought alternate routes to northern Europe through Slovenia.
rs/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)