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  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (C) visits the refugee camp of Kara Tepe in Mytilene on June 18, 2016.

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (C) visits the refugee camp of Kara Tepe in Mytilene on June 18, 2016. | Photo: AFP

Published 18 June 2016

Over the past year and a half more than 1 million refugees and migrants, many from Syria, have arrived on the Greek islands.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon headed to Greece Saturday to take a first-hand look at the migration and refugee crisis engulfing Europe, as tens of thousands remain blocked on the doorstep to the EU.

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Over the past year and a half more than a million refugees and migrants, many from Syria, have arrived on the Greek islands, and Ban praised Greeks for showing "remarkable solidarity" as they face the "tremendous challenges of so many desperate people fleeing war and persecution."

Speaking after talks with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens, Ban also hailed Greece for managing the refugee influx at the same time as grappling with its huge debt crisis.

"Despite the country's economic difficulties, Greece has been saving human lives," he said, adding that the country deserves the support of the international community "and should not be left on its own to face this challenge."

Ban's next stop in Greece later Saturday will be the flashpoint island of Lesbos to visit the refugee camps.

Lesbos and other eastern Aegean islands last year were the gateway into Europe for a migration wave unseen since World War II.

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According to UN figures, Lesbos alone accounted for around 500,000 arrivals in 2015.

A deal between the European Union and Turkey put into effect on March 20 has drastically reduced the flow, but at the cost of human rights violations according to rights groups.

Since then, around 3,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece with over 460 of them sent back to Turkey, where critics say they face discrimination and possible danger.

A relocation program promising to move successful asylum claimants to other EU states has made little headway.

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