Exhausted Afghan refugees rest as they hold a placard demanding the opening the border in the buffer zone of the Greek-FYROM border, near the border village of Idomeni in northern Greece, on Monday.
Thousands of refugees and migrants gathered at Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Monday, heightening concern that they will become trapped over the coming days.
Some 4,000 people were estimated to have congregated at the Idomeni border crossing after FYROM refused to allow any Afghans at all or Iraqis and Syrians who did not have passports to cross from Greece.
Athens said it had launched diplomatic efforts to convince Skopje to allow the Afghans, who make up around a third of arrivals, through. But the FYROM government said its decision was triggered by actions to its north. Austria, which is not accepting more than 80 refugees a day has called a summit with Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, FYROM, Serbia, Slovenia and Kosovo tomorrow to attempt to coordinate their reaction to the refugee crisis.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico expressed doubts about whether the EU’s plans to reach a deal with Turkey next month on limiting the flow of migrants and refugees would be effective. “If that does not work, and I am very pessimistic, and all of us in Europe will insist on proper protection of external borders, there will be nothing left but protecting the border on the line of Greece-Macedonia and Greece-Bulgaria,” he said.
FYROM’s action on its border was already having a knock-on effect in other parts of Greece yesterday. Thousands of migrants arriving at Piraeus from the Aegean islands, where almost 8,000 people arrived between Friday and Sunday, were held back at the port to avoid further overcrowding at Idomeni. Some were taken to the new transit center at Schisto.
“Our biggest fear is that the 4,000 migrants who are in Athens head up here and the place will become overcrowded,” Antonis Rigas, a coordinator of the medical relief charity Doctors Without Borders, told Reuters.
Despite the rise in arrivals over the weekend, bad weather cut the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece by 40 percent last month compared to December, the European Union’s border agency Frontex said. But the number was still nearly 40 times higher than a year before. Frontex said most of the 68,000 people that reached Greece last month were Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.