Greece + 7 more

Border closures creating ‘worst case scenario’ for people fleeing war and persecution

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By Nichola Jones, IFRC

Thousands of people are stranded in Greece and hundreds more in the former Yugolsav Republic of Macedonia after fresh border controls have seen Afghan migrants denied access.

More than 6,000 people are stuck in Idomeni, in northern Greece, while a further 4,000 are currently waiting at the port of Pireaus in Athens.

Changes in border policy in Austria are believed to have seen similar restrictions put in place in the Western Balkan route which is causing a steep rise in the number of migrants trapped.

“What we are faced with now is the worst case scenario – thousands of people are arriving daily on Lesvos, Chios and Samos in Greece but they cannot move on,” said Angelica Fanaki, head of international affairs at the Hellenic Red Cross.

“There is an urgent need to assist those stranded in addition to the new arrivals and the numbers are rapidly growing. If the border closes completely, the result will be devastating,” added Fanaki.

The Hellenic Red Cross is providing medical support and emergency supplies in Athens, in the north of Greece and across the islands. The Hungarian Red Cross has also deployed a mobile medical team to support the Hellenic Red Cross in northern Greece.

“A further 2,300 people are expected to arrive in Athens today (Tuesday),” said Fanaki. “This means that we could see a build-up of tens of thousands of people within the coming days - people who are in many cases traumatized, sick and extremely vulnerable.”

Macedonian-Serbian border

In Tabanonvce, on the northern border between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia, about 700 Afghans are also stranded. The Red Cross of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is distributing emergency supplies including food, water, clothes and baby food at the camp, where migrants normally spend no more than half an hour. The border regulation changes are also expected to impact people across the rest of the route including Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. It could also see the typical routes used by migrants change, with people taking even greater risks and attempting to cross borders of other neighbouring countries.

People from Afghanistan currently make up 27 per cent of arrivals into Europe, behind Syrians who make up 41 per cent, according to figures from UNHCR.

The denial of entry to the migratory route for Afghans comes three months after the decision was made to only allow Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans to pass beyond Greece.

With more than one million people expected to arrive in Europe this year and no end in sight to conflict in the Middle East, the migrant crisis has only just begun.

“The recent surge in people trying to escape bombing in Aleppo in Syria, for example, indicates how volatile the situation remains in conflict-ravaged countries and how the need for protection for those fleeing violence continues to be pivotal,” said Fanaki.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent is working in 28 countries across Europe with more than 84,000 volunteers. More than 644,000 people have been reached so far with medical care, emergency supplies and help to reconnect with loved ones lost along the route.