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Greece recalls ambassador to Austria over migrant restrictions

Published 25/02/2016

Greece has become one of the main points of entry for hundreds of thousands of migrants
Greece has become one of the main points of entry for hundreds of thousands of migrants

Groups of frustrated migrants, including families with small children, trudged along Greek roads on Thursday hoping to reach Macedonia after authorities stopped their buses to ease a bottleneck on the blocked border.

Almost 2,000 migrants per day cross illegally into Greece on their way to a better life in the continent's wealthier north, though restrictions imposed by Austria and Balkan nations have left thousands trapped in the financially broken country - which has seen nearly a million arrivals since January 2015.

The Greek government underlined its annoyance by recalling its ambassador to Austria for consultations - "in order to safeguard friendly relations" between the two states, said Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias.

Greece does not detain people entering the country illegally if they are from Syria, Iraq and several other countries whose citizens are considered eligible for asylum.

Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said about 20,000 migrants are stuck in the country, and pledged to set up new camps near the Macedonian border within the next 10 days that could host them all in "decent" conditions.

"We want to at least ensure that these people are not on the highways, or out in the fields, that there are no children on the roads," he said.

Many of the migrants walking along roads on Thursday gave up after a few miles and were moved on by police to the next stopping point on the route north - usually a petrol station car park. Others managed to find taxis to the Idomeni border crossing, where about 2,800 people were waiting, some for up to four days.

But Macedonian authorities only allowed about 100 people to enter on Thursday.

Nadica V'ckova, a spokeswoman for Macedonia's crisis management department, said the country was restricting the entry of migrants to match the number leaving the country.

Greece as well as international aid agencies have strongly criticised Austria and the Balkan counties for the new transit rules.

"All it will do is exacerbate an already grave humanitarian crisis and put the most vulnerable at increased risk," said Kirk Day of the New York-based International Rescue Committee.

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