EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Tuesday urged the bloc to “scale up” a scheme to share out thousands of refugees among member states that has struggled to get off the ground.
“We have adopted all together a relocation mechanism that must work immediately. So I call on member states to provide us with more pledges and start implementing immediately this plan,” Avramopoulos said.
His remarks were made during a visit to the squalid camp of Idomeni on the Greek-Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonian (FYROM) border where over 14,000 refugees have been trapped for weeks.
“Our target is to be in a position to relocate 6,000 people (per month),” Avramopoulos said.
So far, the numbers of refugees relocated from Italy and Greece and shared out among the bloc have only been in the hundreds, a drop in the ocean compared to the planned 160,000.
With FYROM slamming shut its border last week in line with similar decisions taken by fellow Balkan states, the border area has become increasingly packed with the camp and surrounding area turned into a quagmire following days of heavy rain.
“The situation here is tragic,” Avramopoulos said, indicating that a third of the people stranded at Idomeni were children.
On Monday, around 1,500 desperate refugees tried to cross into FYROM through an unfenced part of the border following instructions in Arabic written on a sheet of paper that had been passed around the camp.
After trekking for hours and crossing a river, they were rounded up by FYROM troops and promptly sent back to Greece.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras denounced the “criminal” attitude of people who orchestrated the border-crossing attempt, suggesting it may have been initiated by individuals “perhaps pretending to be volunteers.”
Avramopoulos on Tuesday warned refugees to resist the lure of smuggler gangs.
“All these people must understand that they must listen to the authorities. And follow legal ways in order to achieve their goal,” he said.
“Unfortunately, they are exploited by ruthless smugglers. They shouldn't believe what they tell them.”
Avramopoulos himself got a taste of the shutdown as he walked up to the border fence and tried to talk to FYROM guards on the other side.
After a minute, with no one moving to greet him, he walked away.