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Greece 'braced for growing number of stranded migrants'

Published 22/02/2016

Refugees sit under a map of Europe at a refugee camp at the Greek-Macedonian border (AP)
Refugees sit under a map of Europe at a refugee camp at the Greek-Macedonian border (AP)

Greece's government has warned it expects a growing number of stranded refugees and other migrants after neighbour Macedonia further restricted border access at the weekend, sparking protests by Afghan nationals at a border crossing.

Ioannis Mouzalas, a deputy minister for migration, said the European Union is failing to deal with unilateral actions and an "outburst of scaremongering" from individual member states.

Macedonia imposed the restrictions at the weekend after Austria put a cap on transit and asylum applications.

The action - blocking Afghans from crossing the border and generally restricting access - left thousands of migrants stranded in Greece, at the border and at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, where regular private services to the border were suspended.

"Once again the European Union voted for something, it reached an agreement, and a number of countries who are lacking the culture of the European Union - including Austria, unfortunately - violated this deal 10 hours after it was reached," Mr Mouzalas told state-run ERT television.

"The European Union cannot act in a united way to this outburst of scaremongering from various countries. And that is creating problems, and these problems also involve our country."

Nearly 100,000 migrants and refugees have travelled to Greek islands from nearby Turkey so far this year. The coast guard said 4,427 migrants and refugees arrived in Piraeus from the eastern Aegean islands on Monday. The large number of arrivals on the mainland was due to an improvement in weather conditions that had forced the suspension of the ferry service from islands for several days.

Police said about 2,000 people are stranded at the border camps near the Greek border town of Idomeni, including some 600 Afghans who staged a peaceful protest, holding up Afghan flags and hand-written banners.

Later, hundreds broke a Greek police cordon and crowded at the border fence, trying to climb it or cut through the wire netting. At least four men made it over, and were promptly arrested by police on the Macedonian side.

Among the protesting Afghans was 25-year-old Shafiulahh Qaberi who travelled to Greece from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.

"We've been here for three days, and no one knows why they have closed the border," he said. "I don't need food and I don't need water. What I need is to get over the border. Why are they stopping us?"

The cargo train service between Greece and Macedonia was also suspended after protesters blocked the railway line on the Greek side.

Macedonian officials said on Monday they restricted the entrance of Afghan migrants from Greece following similar action from Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, who in recent days have returned to Macedonia more than 600 Afghans deemed to be economic migrants.

Macedonia's ombudsman Ixhet Memeti told TV Telma that about 1,500 more are expected to be deported to Macedonia soon from countries further north on the Balkan corridor, which migrants follow to reach wealthier European countries.

A senior Macedonian foreign ministry official said Croatian authorities discovered several Afghans who posed as war refugees had actually lived and worked for some time in Greece, and took advantage of the wave of migration to seek asylum further north.

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