With FYROM and other countries shutting their borders, Greek officials say the country could become a vast holding area for several years, world press reports say.
Varoufakis: Greece Risks Being Migrant “Concentration Camp”
CNBC News/Katy Barnato and Geoff Cutmore
The refugee crisis is a “manifestation of the disintegration of the European Union,” Greece’s controversial former finance minister told CNBC on Thursday, as he warned against Turkey and Greece becoming a “large concentration camp for hapless refugees.”
Yanis Varoufakis, who served as finance minister in 2015 under the ruling left-wing Syriza party, said Europe was “rich enough” to cope with the influx of refugees who have flooded to Europe in the wake of the turmoil in Syria.
“The European Union should be a proper union with borders, which we control in a humane way. When somebody knocks on your door and they’ve been shot at, they have kids that are dying or thirsty or hungry, you just open your door to them,” he told CNBC at the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi.
According to the United Nations (UN), 131,724 refugees and migrants made the risky journey across the Mediterranean Sea during January and February. The large majority of these people, 122,637, landed in Greece.
The European Union (EU), of which Greece is a member, has struggled to agree to a strategy to deal with the waves of people, particularly in the wake of terrorist attacks from the group that calls itself the “Islamic State.”
However, on Wednesday, the EU launched a 700 million euro ($760 million) fund to help Greece cope with the crisis.
“The fact that we are now spending some money on refugees is a good thing, but you cannot buy back the lost dignity of the European Union,” Varoufakis told CNBC.
On Tuesday, the UN warned of an “imminent humanitarian crisis” in Greece and accused European nations of failing to cooperate to solve the problem.
Greece Tries to House Migrants as Gates Close
The New York Times/Liz Alderman
ATHENS — Terminal E2 in Piraeus, the port city near Athens, is typically a cheerful holding spot for tourists waiting to board ferries for sunny Greek island vacations.
But on a recent day, nearly 1,000 exhausted migrants who had just crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey sprawled across the sweat-soaked floor and on the asphalt outside, waiting to hear if they could continue toward Germany.
The answer came soon enough: Syrians and Iraqis could board buses for Greece’s northern frontier with Macedonia, which was already choked with nearly 10,000 migrants after Macedonia sealed its border over the weekend. Everyone else — including Afghans, who made up the bulk of the crowd — would be shuttled to one of a rapidly growing number of refugee camps being set up around Athens.
Camps have been opening at the rate of nearly one a day, including at Greece’s dilapidated former Olympic Stadium and in mothballed military bases, to house more than 25,000 people who cannot move forward because of the new border restrictions and because they cannot or will not turn back.
The government is planning to open additional camps between Athens and northern Greece to accommodate an expected surge.
Following scenes of chaos at the Macedonian border, where migrants on Monday broke down part of a razor-wire fence, the migration minister, Ioannis Mouzalas, warned Wednesday that more than 100,000 migrants would soon be stuck in Greece.
The crisis could endure for up to three years, he added, as Greece becomes a reception country — rather than a transit country — for asylum seekers.
“We’ve never seen it like this here,” said Katerina Kitidi, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, surveying the scene at the ferry terminal as women in head scarves huddled with children on a trash-strewn sidewalk near the sea while men stood in a snaking line for water and food.
“With the borders shut, there is a big buildup of people and a definite danger of a bad humanitarian situation taking hold in Greece.”
New Migrant Crisis Flares in Greece
The Wall Street Journal/Nektaria Stamouli
IDOMENI, Greece—A clampdown along Balkan borders has left 30,000 migrants trapped in Greece, marking a new stage in the humanitarian crisis swamping Europe.
Countries farther up the migration trail, from Macedonia to Austria, are now letting in only a few hundred a day, and sometimes no one.
Allowing migrants to be stranded in Greece is considered the EU’s last option to halt the relentless inflow of people from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.
More and more EU governments have lost faith in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of stopping irregular migrants at Turkey, spreading bona fide refugees around the EU, and keeping Europe’s internal borders open.
Ms. Merkel warned this week of “chaos” in Greece, but other European Union leaders say there is no alternative to shutting down the Balkan migration route.
“The first priority is to rapidly stem the flows,” European Council President Donald Tusk said on Wednesday while visiting Croatia, a country on the now-constricted Balkan trail. Europe’s monthslong furor over migration “is testing our Union to the limit,” Mr. Tusk said.
Senior EU officials argue that a humanitarian crisis in Greece, ameliorated with EU money, would help deter further migrants from traveling to Europe.
On Wednesday, the EU executive in Brussels said it could send Greece €300 million ($326 million) quickly, from a new €700 million emergency fund for the bloc.
Greece is rapidly becoming a pressure cooker. Refugees and other migrants are growing frustrated and angry. Hundreds tried to storm the border with Macedonia on Monday, only to be driven back with tear gas.
The presence of riot police and military vehicles is growing daily. Authorities are hastily building a network of camps around the country, hoping to spread the trapped migrants and avoid major unrest.
At Idomeni alone, nearly 10,000 people were stranded by Wednesday at a camp built for 1,500. Most are sleeping in tents or in the open, in muddy fields next to the razor-wire border fence erected by Macedonia.