Migrant crisis in Greece: UN refugee agency slams 'total chaos'

The criticism came as five men were arrested in Italy after the presumed drowning of 200 migrants in a boat off the cost of Libya on Wednesday

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Greece must quickly take control of the “total chaos” being caused by migrants arriving on its islands, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned.

Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR’s director for Europe, made the comments after debt-ridden Greece saw 50,000 migrants arrive in the last month alone.

The UNHCR has estimated 107,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in the country this year – compared to its 43,500 influx in 2014.

Nearly all are refugees fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Migrants wash their clothes in a park in central Athens

After visiting the Greek islands of Lesbos, Kos and Chios, Mr Cochetel said he had “never seen a situation like that” in his 30-year UN career.

Mr Cochetel said: “In terms of water, in terms of sanitation, in terms of food assistance, it's totally inadequate,” he said.

“On most of the islands, there is no reception capacity, people are not sleeping under any form of roof.

“So it's total chaos on the islands. After a couple of days they are transferred to Athens, there is nothing waiting for them in Athens.”

Migrants receive a meal offered by Caritas Greece on its premises in the centre of Athens

He said Greek authorities must “lead and coordinate the response” but member states of the European Union must also do more to share the burden.

“We are concerned with the situation where no one is really assuming leadership in the response, which makes it very difficult for humanitarian operators to participate in the efforts,” Mr Cochetel said.

“The top priority is not to let other Calais develop in other places of Europe.”

Mr Cochetel said the situation in Greece must not be “exploited” for political ends.

A child looks out from a bus as he arrives in Greece

But Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Greece's infrastructure could not handle the thousands of migrants arriving on its shores.

"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.

Meanwhile it emerged that five North African men have been arrested in Italy after the presumed drowning of more than 200 people when a boat sank off the coast of Libya on Wednesday.

Two Libyans, two Algerians and a Tunisian, all aged 21 to 24, have been arrested in Palermo on suspicion of multiple homicide and human trafficking, amid claims that they used clubs and knives against the migrants.

Most of the dead on board the boat had been locked in its hold.

Police said that about three hours into the journey from Libya, the boat started taking on water in the hold, which was packed with mostly African migrants.

It is claimed the traffickers ordered them to bail out the water but they were unable to do so and tried to break out of the hold.

They were allegedly beaten back with knives, clubs and belts and migrants on the deck were ordered to sit on the hatch of the hold to prevent those below from getting out.

Migrants sleep in a park in central Athens

Italian Police said the accused men charged the migrants between £776 and £1165 for the voyage, depending on where they would be placed on the boat.

Those in the hold paid about half as much as those above.

Additional reporting by Reuters