'Indifference' behind surging migrant numbers to Europe: Red Cross chief

Nina Larson
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A Syrian woman carries her baby after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea in an inflatable boat from Turkey on August 20, 2015

A Syrian woman carries her baby after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea in an inflatable boat from Turkey on August 20, 2015 (AFP Photo/Achilleas Zavallis)

Geneva (AFP) - Indifference is to blame for Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War II, the Red Cross chief has told AFP, urging the world to "wake up" to the real extent of the problem.

The dramatic rise in the number of migrants and refugees flooding into the European Union in recent months was predictable and expected, said Elhadj As Sy, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

"We saw this coming," he told AFP in an interview, blaming apathy in Europe and beyond for allowing the crisis to take hold.

"We have to stop the indifference," he said, asking: "What will be the saturation point? When will everybody wake up to see that it is a real crisis?"

His comments came as a barrage of alarming statistics showed that hundreds of thousands of migrants -- many fleeing war and persecution in places like Syria -- are pouring into the European Union, with no end in sight.

EU border agency Frontex said a record high of 107,500 migrants reached the European Union's borders last month.

Around half of them landed in crisis-hit Greece, with nearly 21,000 landing on the overstretched Greek islands last week alone, according to the United Nations.

Germany meanwhile said Wednesday it expects to receive a record 800,000 asylum seekers this year -- up from 202,000 requests last year.

Sy said the IFRC had been warning for years that the migrant crisis could spiral into chaos without a comprehensive response to meet humanitarian need in the countries of origin, along known migration routes and in the countries they arrive in.

- 'Revolt and anger' -

The EU has approved 2.4 billion euros ($2.6 billion) of funding to help member states cope with the flood of migrants, but Sy insisted the response so far "is nowhere near the scale of the problems that we are seeing."

European countries were among the richest on the planet and were well equipped to deal with the numbers arriving, he said, insisting that the continent "can do much more, and do much better."

But he hailed the growing debate and calls for action across Europe, saying the IFRC "would like to see the same debate and the same degree of openness in the countries of origin, which is not the case."

Pointing to the more than 2,400 people who have perished trying to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, Sy said he would like to see "revolt and anger" not only among Europeans but also in the countries producing the migrants.

Asked how to stop the often ruthless traffickers hoarding desperate migrants into rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean or moving them through Europe, Sy said that simply cracking down at known EU entry points would not work.

Although most of the focus was currently on places like Greece, the traffickers were "identifying other routes and other entry points," Sy said.

"It's Greece today, it could be another entry point tomorrow," he said.

The only way to stop the traffickers was to increase legal means of migration.

"The more legal room you have (to migrate), the less room you will have for criminal activity," he said.