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UN: 7,000 refugees a day enter Greek islands as winter nears

Official warns that EU refugee crisis could become ‘a lot more deadly’ as the weather turns cold

More than 7,000 refugees crossed into Greece from Turkey each day this week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Friday, warning that the crisis could turn “more deadly” as winter approaches and temperatures drop.

That is a large increase in refugees trying to reach Greece’s eastern islands, with an average of 4,500 people per day entering the European Union via the islands at the end of September.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said in Geneva that the increase may be due to refugees’ expectations that weather will soon deteriorate or could be the result of smugglers looking to rid themselves of a backlog of people as Turkish authorities crack down on trafficking. A previous shortage of dinghies may also help explain the sudden rush of people crossing to Greece as a fresh supply of the inflatable boats hit the market, he said.

Millions of Syrian refugees have been living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. About 4.5 million spent last year’s coldest months in tents, huts and makeshift settlements not built to withstand the freezing temperatures, and they are now looking to reach Europe.

“This has been something that’s been building in the last years," Millman said.

A record number of people — about 558,000, most from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea — have crossed into the EU this year, more than double the number in 2014, according to the IOM. This year has been the deadliest on record for the refugees, with nearly 3,000 killed while trying to traverse the Mediterranean Sea.

With winter approaching, that number is expected to go up, Millman said. Deaths from hypothermia and other cold-related conditions increase significantly after temperatures drop below a certain threshold, he said. One day in January last year proved particularly deadly, when 29 refugees died after being rescued at sea by a ship that wasn’t carrying blankets to keep the people warm on their way to the shore.

“Winter is going to be a lot more deadly,” he said. “It’s pretty rough out there.”

As winter approaches, the EU remains divided over how to tackle the refugee crisis. Hungary, a staunch opponent of countries in the bloc being assigned refugee quotas, said humanitarian considerations should not eclipse the perceived threat from human traffickers and fighters from Syrian.

Hungarian President Janos Ader said Friday that while “the humanitarian aspects are very important, especially with the coming winter ... we would be making a big political mistake if we neglect the criminal and national security aspects of this migration wave.”

With The Associated Press

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