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A dramatic increase in the number of refugees arriving in Lesbos and a lack of available space on ferries to the mainland risks leaving thousands stranded and overwhelming the limited support on the island, warns the International Rescue Committee.

Around 2,000 people are arriving on Lesbos each day, more than a three-fold increase on last month’s average daily numbers. An estimated 6,500 refugees were on Lesbos last night, and with ferries leaving to the mainland completely booked till the middle of next week the number of refugees staying on the island increases each day. Unless further ships are made available the total number of refugees on Lesbos, which normally has a population of nearly 90,000 people, could rise to more than 20,000 before the ferry service is able to accommodate them.

“The spike in the number of arrivals over the past few days and the inability for refugees to leave the island risks Lesbos reaching breaking point. This increase in the number of refugees is likely to overwhelm the efforts of local authorities, volunteer groups and aid agencies, all of which are already struggling to get the funding and resources they need to support a crisis of this magnitude. The situation is already volatile and we have started seeing increased tensions with the local authorities and between different refugees groups,” said Kirk Day, International Rescue Committee’s Emergency Field Director on Lesbos.

At Kara Tepe transit camp the IRC has helped improve sanitation, the availability of drinking water and installed shower blocks for women, as well as support efforts by local volunteers and others to collect litter to prevent any disease outbreak. An IRC team recently began providing essential information to new arrivals, which is also a strategic entry point to identify and assist vulnerable refugees. Many recent arrivals describe facing violence and having their possessions taken from them as they made the journey from Turkey.

“Organisations like the IRC, which helps refugees across the Middle East, knows only too well the factors that are causing people in such large numbers to seek safety in Europe. It is vital that anyone who escapes war or survived an extremely traumatic journey are properly supported with food, water, shelter and medical checks when they arrive. Unfortunately this basic level of reception has not been possible as there hasn’t been the funding or political will to properly tackle the refugee crisis in Greece.

“European donors and international institutions need to stop focusing on where these refugees are, and instead remember where they are from – and, what they are fleeing. Given the conflicts that these people are fleeing are ongoing, the best way to encourage refugees not to risk their lives by making the dangerous journey to Greece is to offer safe and legal alternatives for them to seek safety, said Kirk Day.