Greece is being forced to spend hundreds of millions of euros on its vast network of informal settlements, a move that has led to the emergence of thousands of people living in tents on its shores and the resettlement of tens of thousands more from countries such as Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria.
A report released by the European Commission on Thursday shows that Greece has been forced to use up to 1,500 of its 10,000 official settlements, most of them in the country’s northernmost islands of Mytilene and Chios, as part of a wider effort to alleviate overcrowding.
The Commission said the situation was worsening and the numbers were growing, particularly on Mytilane.
It said the numbers had increased by 30 percent to over 10,500 as of last October, while the number of illegal encampments rose from 7,200 to 11,300.
More than 7,000 of the camps have been set up since October, and another 2,500 were set up in March and April.
The Commission said it was also planning to relocate a further 5,000 people from camps in the northern area of Crete to smaller camps in Greece.
It noted that in March, the number had more than doubled to nearly 7,500 people.
Some 4,000 refugees from Turkey have settled in the Greek island of Kos, and more than 4,500 others are currently being resettled in Greece in a programme that will be launched in 2018.
The European Commission said that this was the first time that Greece had been forced into this programme.
It also said that the number was growing in the eastern part of the country, with 1,600 new refugee arrivals in the region since October.
The report was issued in response to a petition by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) calling on the Greek government to do more in addressing the problem of refugees on its soil.
In a joint statement with the IOM, the Commission said Greece was the “frontline of the global refugee crisis”.
The Commission noted that more than 7 million people have fled the crisis, of whom about 5 million are currently living in countries such “Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey”.
A separate report from the UN refugee agency UNHCR said Greece had the highest number of refugees of any country in Europe.
It highlighted that the refugee population in Greece was estimated to be 1.3 million, with a significant number of young people and children in the camps, many of whom had been born outside the country.
The UNHCR said there was a high risk of the influx of refugees and migrants continuing and was calling for the closure of illegal camps in Greek territory.