Greece blasts Austria as more migrants stranded

23 February 2016
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Greece made a strongly worded complaint to Austria Tuesday for drastically restricting migrant crossings, as police at the Greek border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) removed hundreds of Afghan migrants stranded at a camp there.

Athens has criticized Austria’s decision last week to cap the daily number of asylum applications and migrants crossing the country – an action that has left thousands stranded in Greece.

The Austrian ambassador to Greece was summoned to the foreign ministry to receive the complaint Tuesday after Austria invited officials from western Balkan countries to a meeting on migration in Vienna Wednesday, excluding Greece.

The ministry described the meeting as a “unilateral move which is not at all friendly toward our country.”

More than 1 million migrants and refugees reached the EU last year, with more than 80 percent of them traveling from Turkey to nearby Greek islands. Arrivals have continued this year at an average of 4,000 each day

The Austrian initiative prompted FYROM at the weekend to stop Afghan migrants at the border, and slow the rate at which asylum-seekers from Syria and Iraq were allowed to cross the border.

In France, hundreds of migrants camped in the port of Calais face a deadline Tuesday evening to move out. However, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve insisted the evacuation would be “progressive.”

In an early morning operation, police at the Greek-FYROM border ordered mostly Afghan migrants onto buses bound for Athens, in the south of the country. Journalists were not allowed to approach the area.

The migrants were to be taken to an army-built camp near Athens that was set up last week, following European Union pressure on Athens to complete screening and temporary housing facilities.

Mirwais Amin, a 20-year-old Afghan migrant, said he was separated from relatives after being stopped from reaching the border and camping out at a nearby site.

“Macedonia isn’t letting migrants through. I can’t understand why,” he said.

“I can’t get to the (border) camp, and members of my family are there. It’s cold here and we have no food.”

The relief agency International Rescue Committee late Monday said FYROM’s decision to turn Afghans away was “yet another example of arbitrary, unilateral decisions by individual states threatening to cause serious humanitarian consequences for desperate refugees.”

Bill Frelick, refugee program director at Human Rights Watch, accused EU countries of turning a blind eye to plight of Afghan asylum-seekers.

“Once again, Europe is resorting to closing its borders to asylum-seekers, instead of coming up with realistic policies to address the plight of those fleeing war and repression, he said.

“By pushing the refugee crisis back into Greece and Turkey, other European and EU countries are ignoring their obligations toward legitimate asylum-seekers.”

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