International aid agencies said Tuesday that they require 550 million dollars to help migrants and refugees in southern Europe this year, with more than half of the sum needed in Greece, where fear and anger grow over the escalating crisis.
Appealing to donors, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and more than 60 other aid organizations said they need most of the money for operations in Greece, the gateway for 850,000 of more than a million migrants who arrived in Europe last year, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
The response plan developed by UNHCR also focuses on Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia - all on the so-called Balkan migration route - and its main aim is to provide shelter, water, sanitation and protection at arrival points.
"Europe is at a critical point, with several of the main countries of arrival showing strain but still no common, shared, sustainable solution to the situation," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said, explaining the call for support.
Greece meanwhile balked at a proposal made by Belgian State Secretary for Migration Theo Francken on Monday that it should set up camps for up to 300,000 migrants on its soil, amid concerns the country could be swamped by people barred from travelling onwards to northern Europe.
"Greece is in a difficult situation," Deputy Immigration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas said in an interview Tuesday with Skai radio.
He said Belgium had also told Athens to push back migrants, but added, "That is illegal." Countries are "panicking" over the large number of arrivals, Mouzalas said.
EU interior ministers asked the European Commission on Monday to prepare the basis for countries to extend national border controls for up to two years within the Schengen free-travel area.
The Schengen zone allows people to move around freely through 26 European countries, normally without the need for identity checks.
But five countries, including Germany, Austria and Sweden, have reintroduced temporary border controls to manage migration flows.
Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said Tuesday that there could be grounds to maintain border checks within Schengen "as long as the external borders are not effectively controlled," adding that the EU's executive is preparing for "all eventualities."
But Greeks are increasingly worried that their country, facing a steady inflow of refugees and migrants from Turkey, will become isolated by the rest of Europe to serve as a buffer for people stranded there, Athens daily Kathimerini said.
UNHCR is looking for adequate facilities that can be converted to shelters in the short term, initially to house 20,000, the report said, quoting the agency's Greek representative, Petros Mastakas, following a meeting with mayors in northern Greece.
Greece has been under increasing pressure to get a grip of the migration influx and establish control over the border with Turkey in the Aegean, with some EU states threatening that it could face exclusion from the Schengen area.
The commission has insisted, however, that this is not an option.
Greek Media on Tuesday mostly carried angry reactions to pressure from the EU.
"They want to quarantine us," daily Elefterios Typos said, reporting the threat of an EU-assisted sealing of the Greek border with the non-EU and non-Schengen Macedonia, the next country the migrants cross en route to western Europe.
Kathimerini pointed out that EU assistance in money and staff for the full launch of hotspots – only one of the four large migrant reception and registration centres planned in Greece is operational - is late and that the migration stream from Turkey is not abating despite an EU agreement with the country.