By Maria Spiliopoulou, Anthi Pazianou
ATHENS, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Greece and Europe have a "humanitarian imperative" to alleviate the situation on the Greek islands for the refugees and migrants as well as for island inhabitants, a senior EU official said Wednesday.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, made the appeal during his visit to the Greek Lesvos Island.
The EU migration policy chief praised Greek peoples' solidarity with the thousands of refugees and migrants who have landed on Greek shores over the past two years.
No country should bear such a burden alone, Avramopoulos said.
Avramopoulos urged the EU to take more immediate actions to decongest the northern Aegean Sea islands and improve the living conditions of the 15,300 people who are accommodated in overcrowded facilities in harsh weather conditions.
"So it simply cannot be that refugees are left out in the cold, to brave the worst of winter without a roof over their heads.
"Solutions must be found today, not tomorrow, not next week, but now," he said.
Avramopoulos underlined that the EU has already offered Greece one billion euros (1.06 billion U.S. dollars) in financial aid since 2015, but money alone cannot solve problems.
The Commissioner urged the Greek authorities for better coordination to step up the assessment of asylum bids and in parallel called on other EU member states to accelerate procedures for the relocation of thousands of refugees across Europe.
Under the EU-Turkey agreement launched last March to stem the influx into Europe, all newcomers in Greece stay in Greece and face deportation back to Turkey unless their asylum request is accepted.
Approximately 62,300 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece since the closure of Balkan borders last winter, according to the latest official estimate released on Wednesday from the Greek government.
According to the Greek Asylum Service, during 2016 about 7,000 refugees were relocated across Europe from Greece, while Athens received 4,415 requests from EU countries to take back migrants as it was the first country of entry.
Only three persons were returned to Greece, the asylum service said in an e-mailed statement.
Despite the closure of borders, refugees and migrants keep entering Greece from Turkey. A total of 691 people have arrived in the country by sea during the first 15 days of 2017, according to figures released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Tuesday.
"We need the further support of the EU and international community. Visits and ascertainments alone do not resolve the problem. We need actions," Christiana Kalogirou, head of the North Aegean Regional Authority, told reporters after Wednesday's visit on Lesvos.