LESBOS/ LONDON: A new wave of tens of thousands of refugees is expected to enter Europe in the coming days, the United Nations predicted yesterday (Tuesday), as a White House spokesman the US was considering "additional steps" the country could take to help.
Vincent Cochetel, the Europe director of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said that a total of 42,000 people were poised to enter the EU over the next 10 days, mainly from Serbia and Macedonia.
An arc of countries from Hungary to Greece saw thousands of new arrivals as Germany's vice-chancellor said his country could accept as many as 500,000 asylum seekers every year.
But the French foreign minister cautioned that giving sanctuary to Christians or Yazidis from the Middle East would play into the hands of the fanatics who want to rid the region of non-Muslims.
The Obama administration has come under criticism from refugee and immigrant advocates for not doing enough to deal with the crisis caused by refugees fleeing violence in Syria and other countries.
"The White House is going to continue to consider additional steps that we can take to help the countries that are bearing the brunt of this burden," spokesman Josh Earnest said yesterday.
A single-day record 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Macedonia alone on Monday, according to the UNHCR, following the "Western Balkans" route to enter the EU by crossing into Hungary. Ahead of them were 2,700 people, who arrived at the town of Roszke on the frontier between Serbia and Hungary. Police tried to hold them back, but several hundred managed to break through the ranks of officers and reach Hungary, where they could be seen tramping along the motorway running towards the capital, Budapest.
Still further ahead on this route were 7,000 refugees who arrived in the Austrian capital, Vienna. Their hopes of starting new lives in Europe may be raised by Sgimar Gabriel, the German vice-chancellor, who said: "I believe we could certainly deal with something in the order of a half a million for several years." This year, Germany is planning to accept 800,000 refugees.
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, pointed out that the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) want to clear the Middle East of all minorities. "If all these refugees come to Europe or elsewhere, then Isil has won the game," he told RTL radio.
Instead, Mr Fabius said the goal should be to ensure the "Middle East remains the Middle East: that means a region of diversity where there are Christians, Yazidis etc".
A Norwegian hotel billionaire offered free nights in his hotels to any refugees without accommodation in asylum centres. "We are offering 5,000 nights to refugees who need it," said Petter Stordalen, the owner of the Nordic Choice hotels chain. The Norwegian authorities said they would consider Mr Stordalen's offer if the established centres were full.
The Greek authorities on the island of Lesbos issued travel permits to 15,000 refugees during a marathon 24-hour operation, designed to ease the pressure on the island after days of tension. They are expected to travel by ferry to Athens and then onwards through the Balkans and into Western Europe.
Up to 20,000 refugees, many of them Syrian, had been sleeping rough in the port area of Lesbos' main town, Mytilini. They were unable to leave the island because there were not enough Greek officials to give them travel permits. An extra 65 police and coast guard officers were drafted in from Athens to register the refugees in a disused football stadium.
Vast queues formed during this all-night operation. Special ferries then transported around 6,000 refugees and migrants to Athens. More vessels with another 4,500 passengers are expected to depart on Wednesday.
Khuder Hussein, 25, a member of the persecuted Yazidi minority in Syria, was on board a dinghy with 60 other refugees when the vessel began taking on water in the channel that separates Lesbos from the Turkish coast. "The water was up to here," he said, pointing at his chest. They were saved by the arrival of a Greek patrol ship.
"If the coast guard had arrived five minutes later, we would all have been in the sea. I can't swim and nor could most of the people with me," said Mr Hussein.
He paid $1,200 (pounds 800) for the crossing to Turkish, Syrian and Pakistani people smugglers. "They told us they would put 40 people in the boat but when the moment came to leave there were 60 of us on board, so it was badly overloaded," added Mr Hussein.
"There were about a dozen children. When we started sinking, the kids were screaming. When I saw the Greek flag on the patrol boat, I thanked God. Had it been Turkish I would have taken off my life jacket and drowned myself.
"I could not bear to be sent back to Turkey."