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Record numbers of migrants swarming Greek islands to reach Europe

Record numbers of migrants swarming Greek islands to reach Europe
A Greek police officer tries to push back migrants waiting to be registered on the island of Kos on Monday. The number of migrants and refugees arriving on Greece's shores has exploded this year, with the nearly 50,000 who entered in July surpassing all of 2014. (Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP/Getty Images)

An exodus of Syrians and Afghans fleeing conflict in their home countries has escalated the Mediterranean migration crisis to record numbers, with the Greek coast guard picking up more than 1,400 refugees from the sea in the past three days.

In July, the United Nations refugee agency recorded almost 50,000 migrants arriving on European Union territory through Greek borders -- more than arrived in the country during all of 2014.

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warned last week that the inundation was overwhelming security and migration authorities' ability to provide food, shelter and care for the refugees, who often arrive dehydrated and injured from their desperate voyages.

Since the start of this year, Greece has registered more than 124,000 migrants, 70% of them Syrians, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees reported. Most of those seeking asylum in Europe through Greece arrived at eastern Aegean Sea islands just off Turkey's western coast.

Greek authorities have ordered construction of prefabricated housing in central Athens where they plan to relocate hundreds of the migrants who were brought to the capital for immigration processing and have been camping in city parks.

The mass flight of refugees across the Mediterranean this summer has contributed to record tragedies at sea, with 2,100 confirmed drownings as of last month, the U.N. refugee agency reported.

"Greece and Europe need to lead the response to this crisis, which can be resolved only through more solidarity within and outside the EU and increased alternative means to reach Europe for refugees fleeing violence," urged Vincent Cochetel, the U.N. refugee agency's director for Europe.

Between Friday morning and Monday morning, the Greek coast guard rescued 1,417 migrants at sea in 59 incidents in the archipelago that includes Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Agathonisi and Kos, the Associated Press reported from Kos.

Frontex, a border management agency that handles security and migration for the European Union, reported Friday that 49,550 migrants arrived through Greece last month, and that Syrians and Afghans accounted for 90% of the new arrivals.

Syria is in the fifth year of a civil war that has killed 250,000, by the United Nations' estimate. More than 4 million Syrians have fled the country, creating refugee crises throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East regions.

In Afghanistan, Taliban efforts to reassert a fundamentalist Islamic order after the drawdown of U.S. and other coalition forces over the past year has brought fresh violence and spurred a new wave of refugees seeking asylum in Europe.

Follow @cjwilliamslat for the latest international news 24/7

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