7,000 migrants stranded at Greek border

A refugee placing a flower on the fence as he waits with others on the Greek side of the border to enter Macedonia.
A refugee placing a flower on the fence as he waits with others on the Greek side of the border to enter Macedonia.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

IDOMENI (Greece) • More than 7,000 migrants remain stranded at the Greece-Macedonia border as anger mounts over barriers to entry imposed on those flooding into Europe.

In a sign of deepening divisions within Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has lashed out at Austria and Balkan states for introducing tight limits on migrant entry, leaving Greece with the growing bottleneck as refugee boats continue to arrive from Turkey.

Macedonian police on Monday fired tear gas to quell the violence by hundreds of migrants who tried to break through a Greek police cordon and barbed wire fencing at the frontier. Yesterday, the Macedonian Foreign Minister defended the use of tear gas against migrants, saying the country's security forces were protecting themselves against violence.

Desperate migrants are trying to reach Germany, which has accepted far more asylum seekers than any other country, taking in 1.1 million of them last year.

Less than a week after Austria and Balkan states took steps to stem the flow of refugees from Greece, the violence on Greece's northern border reflects the perils of the European Union's inability to agree on a common policy to address the migration crisis.

Wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as repression and poverty across the Middle East and Africa continue to compel large numbers of people to strike out for Europe.

Germany continues to signal that it will accept legitimate refugees, especially from Syria.

Berlin's warmer welcome has led to tensions with other European governments.

The number of people arriving in Greece is expected to increase with the warmer weather and safer sea crossings from Turkey.

This will place a huge strain on Greece, which is turning into a giant holding centre for migrants who cannot go forward because of the new border restrictions, but will not or cannot go back home.

"We estimate that we will have a number of people trapped in our country which will be between 50,000 and 70,000," Minister for Migration Ioannis Mouzalas told the Greek TV channel Mega.

He said those numbers would be reached very soon this month as 22,000 migrants were already in the country.

More than 111,000 migrants have already arrived in Greece this year, far ahead of the pace last year.

Greece, already struggling under its long economic slump and budget austerity imposed by the EU, has requested emergency aid from the bloc to help it deal with the migrant crisis.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline '7,000 migrants stranded at Greek border'. Print Edition | Subscribe