EU fast-tracks funding as migrant crisis accelerates

Migrants-620x330The European Union pledged Friday to fast-track new funding to help debt-hit Greece cope with a surge in migrants, with hundreds coming ashore daily only to be confronted by often hellish conditions.

Authorities on the island of Kos have been so overwhelmed that the government sent a ferry to serve as a temporary centre to issue travel documents to Syrian refugees — among some 7,000 migrants stranded on the island of about 30,000 people.

Brutal conditions were reported on Kos earlier this week, with a single water hose and just two toilets for over 1,000 migrants crammed into a football stadium under baking sun waiting for travel papers.

Greece is just one of the flashpoints of a migrant crisis erupting across Europe. Housing is particularly a concern, with rights activists slamming conditions for refugees in Austria and asylum seekers in Germany getting a decidedly mixed welcome.

“Today the world finds itself facing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a press conference.

In response to the situation in Greece, the European Commission is fast-tracking a Greek request for 2.7 million euros ($3 million) to support UN efforts to deal with the migrants arriving on the Aegean islands, Avramopoulos said.

Greece will also soon receive a first disbursement of 30 million euros from a total of 2.4 billion euros ($2.6 billion) of funding for all 28 EU member states to cope with the flood of migrants until 2020.

The money comes as the number of people driven from their homes by conflict and crisis has topped 50 million for the first time since World War II, with Syrians hardest hit, the UN refugee agency said.

Some 124,000 refugees and migrants landed on the Greek islands during the first seven months of the year — up 750 percent from 2014, according to UN figures.

And about 102,000 people have traveled from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy so far this year — compared to 2014, when 170,000 made the trip during the entire year, the International Organization for Migration.

Activists were cautiously positive about the new funding for Greece, while calling for a bolder response to the migrants crisis.