Refugee pressure piles up on Greece


More than 12,000 refugees and migrants found themselves trapped in Greece on Tuesday as Athens took diplomatic action to counter the border restrictions to its north that are causing the buildup.

The Greek government issued a demarche to Austria over its decision to limit the number of asylum seekers it will accept, as well as the number of migrants that can pass through its territory in transit.

Vienna is also hosting a conference on Wednesday to discuss the refugee crisis. A number of Western Balkan countries will attend but Greece had not been invited, prompting Athens to accuse the Central European country of making a “unilateral” move.

“The exclusion of our country at this meeting is seen as a non-friendly act since it gives the impression that some, in our absence, are expediting decisions which directly concern us,” said Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also called his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte to discuss Athens’s grievances as the Netherlands currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency. Athens feels that there was an agreement at last week’s leaders’ summit in Brussels that none of the Union’s members should take any unilateral actions concerning refugees until the planned meeting with Turkey takes place on March 6.

The limitations put in place by Austria have had a knock-on effect along the rest of the so-called Balkan Route for migrants, particularly on Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), where only a few dozen people were allowed to cross on Tuesday.

FYROM border guards refused to allow Afghans to cross, leading to the Greek government hiring 21 coaches to transport the migrants back to Athens, where some were taken to the former Olympic Games site at Elliniko and others to the transit center at Schisto. Last night there was a total of around 2,500 people at the two sites.

The rise in the number of arrivals also means there is a greater number of refugees and migrants on the Greek islands. Almost 1,400 people were rescued by the coast guard on Lesvos, some 1,200 people were at the hot spot on Chios and more than 1,300 had arrived on passengers ferries at Piraeus.