BRUSSELS: The European Union pledged on 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 travelled 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 Organisation for Migration.

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

“Today’s measures announced by the Commission, if correctly channelled towards those in need, may help support the country and vulnerable people, “said Iverna McGowan, acting Director for Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“But overall a broader rethink of EU asylum policies and practices is needed”, she added.Meanwhile, Amnesty International slammed conditions at Austria’s main refugee camp as a “disgraceful” violation of human rights, highlighting what it called the “inhumane” plight of more than 1,700 unaccompanied children.

The human rights organisation visited the Traiskirchen camp, 20 kilometres south of Vienna, last week, a day after the overcrowded centre stopped accepting new arrivals because of disastrous sanitary conditions.

Built to house 1,800 people, the camp and an adjacent government building are currently home to 4,000 men, women and children.

“The situation of unaccompanied children and adolescents is particularly precarious,” Amnesty spokeswoman Daniela Pichler said at a news conference.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2015

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