BRUSSELS (AP) — The U.N. refugee agency urged the European Union on Thursday to take in far greater numbers of refugees than planned as the number of desperate Syrians fleeing conflict continues to grow.
The EU's 28 nations resettled around 8,500 people in need of protection last year, according to UNHCR figures, and plans to resettle 20,000 refugees from outside Europe over the next two years.
UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Turk told EU lawmakers that "there will be a much greater and more urgent need to increase these numbers."
Turk said the numbers of migrants entering the EU via Turkey into Greece had increased significantly recently, and that most of those coming in were Syrians. Some Iraqis, Somalis and Eritreans are using this route too, he said.
"We haven't seen as many arrivals in Greece in previous years as we have now," he said. "There needs to be a lot of solidarity measures with the countries that are particularly affected," like Greece and Malta.
The conflict there is now in its fifth year and Turk said this means that "a certain sense of hopelessness sets in among the Syrian refugee population" and drives them to more desperate ways of finding sanctuary.
Lead EU lawmaker on migration, Roberta Metsola, said the EU could make better use of an existing system of special visas for such people. She called for a fully-resourced "support system to create further capacities for humanitarian visas."
In a separate measure, the European Commission is urging member states to take in 40,000 Syrians and Eritreans arriving in Italy and Greece over the next two years in an attempt to oblige countries to share the migrant burden.
A number of states, including influential EU members France and Germany, have complained about the commission's method for calculating how many refugees each nation should take in under the "relocation" plan.