UN says 'Europe on cusp of self-induced humanitarian crisis'

UN says ‘Europe is on cusp of self-induced humanitarian crisis’ and calls for better planning and accommodation for refugees stuck in Greece as governments impose new border restrictions despite already reached deals

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Refugees arrive aboard the Blue Star 1 passenger ship at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, March 1, 2016.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Tuesday that "Europe is on the cusp of a largely self-induced humanitarian crisis" referring to the refugee conflict.

"This is in light of a rapid build-up of people in an already struggling Greece, with governments not working together despite having already reached agreements in a number of areas, and country after country imposing new border restrictions," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters during a press conference in Geneva.

“Inconsistent practices are causing unnecessary suffering and risk being at variance with EU and international law standards,” Edwards added.

Edwards' remarks came as at least 24,000 refugees are stranded in Greece after Austria and countries along the Balkan migration route imposed restrictions on their borders limiting the numbers able to cross.

Macedonian police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of refugees who pushed their way towards the border from Greece on Monday, tearing down a gate as frustrations boiled over at restrictions imposed on people moving through the Balkans.

According to UNHCR, a rapid build-up of refugees at Greece's northern border risks creating a humanitarian disaster, so that Edwards urged all EU member countries to reinforce their capacity to register and process refugees through their national procedures as well as through the European relocation scheme.

"The crowded conditions are leading to shortages of food, shelter, water and sanitation. As we all saw yesterday, tensions have been building, fuelling violence and playing into the hands of people smugglers," Edwards said.

He underlined that a number of clear actions including better contingency planning, increased accommodation, more resources and better coordination are needed to cope with the crisis.

"Greece cannot manage this situation alone," he continued.

Despite commitments to relocate 66,400 refugees from Greece, countries have so far only pledged 1,539 spaces and only 325 people actually have been relocated.

Since the beginning of 2016, some 131,724 refugees from the conflict-torn countries in the Middle East have crossed the Mediterranean and about 410 others have died at sea, according to the latest figures released by UNHCR.

TRTWorld and agencies