UNITED NATIONS • Thousands of refugees and migrants are grappling with freezing conditions as severe winter weather sweeps across Europe, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said, as it stepped up assistance.
Ms Eri Kaneko, associate spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said on Friday that in Greece, hundreds of people had been transferred to better accommodation in Lesvos and Chios over the past week.
In Serbia, some 1,200 refugees still stayed in inadequate informal sites in the Belgrade city centre, including up to 300 unaccompanied or separated young children.
The agency expressed concern over reports that several people had died because of the harsh conditions as they tried to enter or travel across Europe, including five since the beginning of this year.
UNHCR spokesman Cecile Pouilly told a press briefing in Geneva on Friday: "Saving lives is the most urgent priority right now.
"We are extremely worried about continued reports of pushbacks in all the countries along the Western Balkans. These practices are simply unacceptable and must be halted, as they place the lives of refugees and migrants at heightened risk and violate their most fundamental rights."
Since the end of last week, a winter cold snap across Europe has killed more than 60 people, with homeless people and migrants stranded in countries like Greece and Serbia most at risk.
In France, a woman was killed by a falling tree in her garden in a village near the Mediterranean resort of Nice, while a woman in Albania was found dead on Thursday outside her home in the southern town of Saranda.
The storm, officially named Egon, also battered Belgium and Germany, where the key international hub of Frankfurt airport cancelled 120 flights.
At one point overnight, 330,000 homes were without power in France, although this was reduced to 35,000 by Friday night.
Eurostar cancelled two trains between London and Paris, while 180 passengers were forced to spend a chilly night on a high- speed train from Brussels to the French capital that finally arrived 10 hours late.
The World Meteorological Organisation said in a statement that the high-pressure weather system was moving slowly eastwards over Europe. In Ukraine, officials said sub-zero temperatures across the country have claimed 40 lives since late December.
XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE