Greece to "need camps" as migrants mass between tightening borders

Thousands of migrants crowded the Greek border with Macedonia Monday as the Balkan countries they must traverse to reach wealthier parts of Europe pushed their gates further shut. 

The development further fanned fear in Greece that it may become a buffer for many thousands of refugees stranded on its soil. "We will need camps and we will set them up," Greek minister in charge of migrants, Ioannis Mouzalas, told state TV ERT.

Around 5,000 people were waiting at the border, local reports said quoting witnesses. All want to continue their journey across Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and then Austria, with Germany the final goal for most.

Macedonia, meanwhile, confirmed that it now only allows Syrian and Iraqi refugees through, matching a decision by its northern neighbour, Serbia.

In Belgrade, Welfare Minister Aleksandar Vulin did not provide a clear answer to whether Afghans were banned from entering, saying only that Serbia "applies [migrant movement] rules determined by Austria and Slovenia."

Until now, Afghans have also been allowed to pass through alongside Syrians and Iraqis.

The daily Vecer in Skopje quoted diplomatic sources as saying that despite Greek pressure to allow more people through, Macedonia would "never allow itself to be found with migrants caught between closed borders."

In Brussels, European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said that the commission was not aware of Afghan nationals being filtered out of the migration flows.

Fearing that Austria may close its border to migrants, the countries on the so-called Balkan route have since late November incrementally tightened transfer channels and are ready to fully sever them to prevent a pileup on their soil.

Austria has announced that it would take a maximum 80 asylum claims per day and shuttle no more than 3,200 people to Germany.

The measures on the route include a barrier to all economic migrants and tighter controls on the borders. Further, some countries - Hungary, Macedonia, Slovenia and Austria - have put up border barriers to stop trespassers.

Around 1 million people, many of them refugees from war zones in the Middle East, passed along the Balkan corridor during the past 12 months. Virtually all just transited, intending to seek asylum in Germany and other wealthy European nations.

The burden of migrants has strained the European Union, with the Visegrad Group of central European countries - Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary - defiantly refusing to accept what the EU has called a fair share of asylum seekers.

In his interview with ERT, Greece's Mouzalas criticized such countries, saying they were "lacking in European culture."

In Rome, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi also blasted the Visegrad countries, which are large recipients of EU regional aid funds, and threatened them with sanctions.

"If you don't show solidarity on migration, I think it is absolutely legitimate for bigger countries to not show solidarity on [EU budget] contributions," Renzi told reporters.

Last update: Mon, 22/02/2016 - 16:52

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