Europe faces refugee pressure after border tightening

Growing number of refugees may gather at Greece's border as borders of Macedonia, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia continue to be tightened

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Refugees and migrants sleep next to containers as they wait to be allowed to cross the Greek-Macedonian border, near the city of Polikastro, Greece, February 22, 2016.

Greece is expecting the arrival of a growing number of stranded refugees after Macedonia restricted its borders for refugee access on the weekend.

The European Union is failing to deal with solitary actions and “scare-mongering” tactics from individual member states, Ionnis Mouzalas, a Greek deputy minister for migration said.

Austria had imposed a cap on transit and asylum applications, leading Macedonia to impose restrictions on the weekend.

The action left thousands of refugees stranded in Greece, at the border and the port of Piraeus, near Athens, while regular private services at the border were suspended.

Refugees and migrants walk towards the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, Greece, February 21, 2016.

"Once again the European Union voted for something, it reached an agreement, and a number of countries who are lacking the culture of the European Union, including Austria, unfortunately, violated this deal 10 hours after it was reached," Mouzalas told state-run ERT television.

"The European Union cannot act in a united way to this outburst of scare-mongering from various countries. And that is creating problems, and these problems also involve our country."

Over 100,000 refugees have allegedly travelled to the Greek Islands from nearby Turkey so far this year.

Police said some 2,000 people were stranded at border camps near the Greek border town of Idomeni.

"We've been here for three days, and no one knows why they have closed the border," he told the AP. "I don't need food and I don't need water. What I need is to get over the border. Why are they stopping us?”, Shafiulahh Qaberi, 25, a refugee who travelled to the border of Greece from Afghanistan.

Hungary has also reported a sharp rise in the number of refugees crossing its southern borders in February, the first large surge since the frontiers were sealed last year.

Hungarian police said in a statement that around 1,500 refugees tried to enter the EU member state illegally from Serbia this month, with 500 caught between Friday and Sunday.

Police said some of them were from different regions including Morocco, Iran and Pakistan, who are classified as economic migrants besides the refugees who come from Syria. Economic migrants are unlikely to be granted asylum in Europe and generally face deportation.

Right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban sealed off the southern border of Hungary with razor wire and fences in September and October. About 300,000 refugees passed through into Hungary last year.

Migrants rest as a policeman watches them near Hungary's border fence on the Serbian side of the border near Morahalom, Hungary, February 22, 2016.

The measures, along with tight patrols and tough punishments, slowed the flow to around a dozen people a day attempting to cross.

Since September, 1,325 people have been charged with crimes under the new legislation. A vast majority were served expulsion orders.

Hungary also fears the newly introduced daily cap on refugees in Austria could leave thousands stranded in Greece.

In 2015, more than a million refugees reached Europe, while Turkey hosts the most in the world, opening its doors to 2,5 million Syrian civil war victims.

Due to increased pressure from far-right opposition groups, Austria announced last week it would only accept 80 refugees a day and allow a total of 3,200 migrants to transit the country anually. 

In response to the latest developments, Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia have also tightened their borders.

Meanwhile Hungary announced it was ready to quickly build a fence on the Romanian frontier if refugees were to make their way towards the country. 

TRTWorld and agencies