U.N. Chief Arrives In Greece For Refugee Crisis Visit

U.N. Chief Arrives In Greece For Refugee Crisis Visit

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in Athens on Friday (June 17) for a two-day official visit to discuss the refugee crisis and offer support to Greece.

"I know all types of your ongoing economic reform and social issues. This having become a frontline, a frontline state of these refugees, I know this is a huge, enormous challenge for your country. But we are very much grateful for your global solidarity and compassionate leadership," the U.N. chief said during a meeting with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

Ban's visit in Athens comes just one week after Greece launched a new registration procedure for asylum seekers stranded in the country, aiming to speed up the reunification of families and the relocation of migrants to other European Union states.

The so-called "pre-registration" process, funded by the European Commission and backed by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, gives stranded individuals access to the national asylum procedure.

The European Union clinched a deal with Ankara in March aimed at closing off the main route into Europe, used by around a million refugees and migrants last year.

Under the deal, which has been lambasted by rights groups and aid agencies, Greece is obliged to return those who either do not apply for asylum or have their claims rejected.

Officials say about 8,400 migrants are currently on Greek islands, nearly all of whom have expressed interest in applying for asylum, overwhelming the system and drawing criticism that Athens has been too slow to process them.

Following his visit in Athens Ban will travel to Lesbos island on Saturday (June 18) with Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas. During his brief visit on Lesbos the U.N. chief will meet with migrants and refugees, asylum seekers and local volunteers to assess the situation on the island that bore the brunt of the migration influx.

According to latest government figures some 56,000 migrants are at present on Greek soil.