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Photograph: EPA/GEORGI LICOVSKI

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding among the refugees massed at Greece's border with Macedonia, warned a representative of the UN refugee agency Sunday, saying the situation there cannot persist for long.

At least 13,000 people hoping to claim asylum in Western Europe are massed at the border, but unable to move on because Macedonia is only letting through about 250 people a day. The situation is rapidly deteriorating, with more people arriving daily, say observers.

"It's a wake-up call for the EU leaders, because this is a humanitarian crisis," warned Babar Baloch of the UNHCR.

He made his comments at the Idomeni refugee centre, which lies near the border.

Baloch said about 55 per cent of the people at the camp - which was designed for 2,000 people - are women and children. Many people have taken to camping in the open in nearby fields. Many of the children are reportedly suffering from respiratory diseases.

The European Union has planned a crisis summit with Turkey on Monday to discuss the refugee crisis. Many of the asylum seekers fleeing conflict in the Middle East first head to Turkey, from where they move on to Greece before hoping to make the trip further into Europe.

EU officials have said that finding a way to keep the people from fleeing Turkey in the first place is a critical part of the plan to control the number of people streaming into Europe.

The Greek Foreign Ministry has threatened Macedonia with unspecified serious consequences if it does not let the refugees pass through.

"Greece needs help to confront this situation," warned Baloch. "Desperate refugees will suffer more."

The Greek government announced on Sunday that a health centre for refugees at Idomeni should be operational by Wednesday.

Governor Apostolos Tzitzikostas has called on the government to declare a state of emergency in the region.

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