Greece says up to 70,000 migrants may be 'trapped' next month

By AFP
Published: February 28, 2016
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Children, behind a fence, wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border along with other Syrian and Iraqis refugees near the village of Idomeni on February 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Children, behind a fence, wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border along with other Syrian and Iraqis refugees near the village of Idomeni on February 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

ATHENS: Greece on Sunday said the tally of refugees and migrants on its soil could more than triple next month, reaching as many as 70,000 people, as a cap on border crossings by Balkan countries left them “trapped” in the country.

“We estimate that in our country the number of those trapped will be from 50,000-70,000 people next month”, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said.

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“Today, there are 22,000 refugees and migrants”, he added in an interview with Mega Channel tv.

Some 6,500 people were stuck at the Idomeni camp on Greece’s northern border with Macedonia on Sunday as Macedonian border officials let only 300 refugees and migrants pass the day before.

The build-up at the 1,500-people capacity camp began in earnest last week after Macedonia began refusing entry to Afghans and imposed stricter document controls on Syrians and Iraqis.

The bottleneck is expected to get worse after EU members Slovenia and Croatia, as well as Serbia and Macedonia, imposed a limit of 580 migrants entering their borders each day.

Those measures came on the heels of a clampdown by Austria, which lies farther up the migrant trail that extends from the Balkans to Germany and Scandinavia.

Austria introduced a daily cap of 80 asylum-seekers and said it would only admit 3,200 migrants transiting the country.

As a result, the tighter controls have had a big knock-on effect in Greece, where migrants have been arriving en masse from neighbouring Turkey.

Thousands, including many children, are now stranded there as the European Union struggles with the continent’s worst migration crisis since the end of World War II.

Mouzalas said he expected the influx of refugees and migrants to slow when the information of closed borders reached Turkey, where millions of people fleeing the war in Syria have taken refuge.

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“I believe that the influx will diminish when the news that the Idomeni border crossing is closed will be propagated. We are preparing an information campaign which will be broadcast in Turkey”, the Migration Minister said.

He added that this campaign as well as NATO’s presence in the Aegean Sea, which is helping to police Greek waters, was expected to reduce arrivals by 70 percent.

On Saturday, Mouzalas told Sto Kokkino radio that Greece intends to create provisional camps across the country to accommodate up to 3,000 people each, but “preferably 1,000 people, in order to cover their basic needs for a little while.”

In a bid to regulate the flow of refugees until the border situation is resolved, Greek authorities are trying to house them on the Aegean islands where migrants’ arrivals have decreased, Greek authorities say.

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Despite the ongoing refugee drama only one in five Greek people had a clear idea of the number of refugees and migrants reaching Greece’s soil, according to a new poll conducted for Dianeosis think tank and published in To Vima Newspaper on Sunday.

For those asked, the main responsibility for the crisis lies with the EU (21 percent) but also with the war and the social crisis in the Arab world (21 percent).

The survey also found that 92 percent believed the EU had failed to support Greece sufficiently, and 60 percent believed it was important for the country not to exit Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.

More than two-thirds of respondents voiced sympathy for the refugees but just over half said they would “rather not” see them settle in Greece.

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