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Greece Refugee Crisis Raises Awareness, Attracts Help

Migrants arriving in Piraeus. Photo source: Greek daily Kathimerini

Migrants arriving in Piraeus. Photo source: Greek daily Kathimerini

The ongoing influx of refugees and migrants to many of the Greek islands this summer is not only raising awareness to the predicament of hundreds of people fleeing conflict but is also attracting the interest of everyone from nurses and billionaires who wish to lend a helping hand.

As Greek island authorities struggle with meager means to deal with the humanitarian crisis, an Egyptian telecoms billionaire has expressed his interest to purchase an island off the coast of Greece or Italy in order to provide shelter.

Naguib Sawiris

Naguib Sawiris

Sixty-one-year-old Naguib Sawiris said he would approach the Greek and Italian governments about his plan to buy a Greek or Italian island and build “temporary shelters to house the people”, plus schools, universities and hospitals.

Meanwhile, he slammed the current treatment of asylum seekers across Europe, who he said are being treated like “cattle”, AFP reported.

At the same time, Chobani founder and CEO, 43-year-old Hamdi Ulukaya said he too would join some of the world’s richest individuals in pledging to give away at least half his wealth for the cause.

The Turkish-born yogurt tycoon, committing to “The Giving Pledge”, told AP that he has set up a website for a foundation named “Tent”, which he plans to fund over time. He said Tent’s activities will include raising awareness about refugee situations and helping provide relief on issues like education and health care.

Mytilini town, Lesvos. Photo © Koutrolm / Wikimedia Commons

Mytilini town, Lesvos. Photo © Koutrolm / Wikimedia Commons

In the meantime, authorities on the island of Lesvos have reached their limits, with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) calling for “exceptional measures” to speed up the registration of thousands of refugees stranded there.

Alternate Minister for Migration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas visited the island on Sunday, to announce the measures, that include increasing the number of ferries transporting the migrants and refugees to Piraeus to speed up the registration process. Speaking at a press conference, Mouzalas said the situation is “manageable but is very close to getting out of hand”, and added that the aim for the next few days is to “relieve the island and lessen the difficulties for locals and refugees”.

According to the UNHCR, the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year has surpassed 300,000, with almost 200,000 of those landing in Greece. Half of those are estimated to have come ashore to Lesvos, where they are waiting to be issued documents that will allow them to travel to Piraeus and from there through the Balkans into northern Europe.

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