Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras asked Europe to help in handling tens of thousands of refugees coming in from Syria, Afghanistan and other war zones, saying yesterday his cash-strapped country could not deal with them alone.

The influx has piled pressure on Greece’s services at a time when its own citizens are struggling with harsh cuts and its government is negotiating with the EU and the IMF for fresh loans to stave off economic collapse.

Boatloads of migrants arriving every day had triggered a “humanitarian crisis within the economic crisis,” Tsipras said after a meeting with ministers.

“The EU is being tested on the issue of Greece. It has responded negatively on the economic front – that’s my view. I hope it will respond positively on the humanitarian front,” he said.

The comments came as the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) called on Greece to take control of the “total chaos” on Mediterranean islands, where thousands of migrants have landed. About 124,000 have arrived this year by sea, many via Turkey, according to Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR director for Europe.

“The level of suffering we have seen on the islands is unbearable. People arrive thinking they are in the EU. What we have seen was not anything acceptable in terms of standards of treatment,” Cochetel said after visiting the Greek islands of Lesbos, Kos and Chios.

“I have never seen a situation like that. This is the EU and this is totally shameful,” he added.

At a makeshift refugee centre at Kara Tepe, a hilltop about 5km north of Lesbos island’s main town of Mytilene, about 50 white tents provided by the local council struggled to accommodate the waves of people coming in daily.

Rubbish littered the area and locals said 16 toilets were frequently blocked despite attempts by authorities to keep the area clean.

Up to 10 people could be seen sharing one of the tents, while others lay on pieces of cardboard, jostling for space under the shade of olive trees in sweltering heat.

“The government had battles on plenty of fronts and probably could not give as much attention to the problem,” the island’s mayor Spiros Galinos said.

The UNHCR’s Cochetel said Greece had to step up its response.

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