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Greece seeks EU aid for 100,000 refugees

Updated March 02, 2016

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Idomeni (Greece): A refugee sits in front of a police cordon during a protest at the Greece-Macedonia border on Tuesday.—Reuters
Idomeni (Greece): A refugee sits in front of a police cordon during a protest at the Greece-Macedonia border on Tuesday.—Reuters

ATHENS: Greece has asked the EU for nearly half a billion euros in emergency funds to help shelter 100,000 refugees, the government said Tuesday, warning that the migrant influx threatens to overwhelm its crisis-hit resources.

“Greece has submitted an emergency plan to the European Commission ...corresponding to around 100,000 refugees,” government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili told reporters, with the requested aid totalling 480 million euros($534 million).

“We cannot bear the strain of all the refugees coming here,” Gerovassili added.

“These are temporary measures — there needs to be a permanent solution on where the refugees will be relocated,” she said, vowing that Greece would use “every diplomatic means available to find the best possible solution”.

With Austria and Balkan states capping the numbers of migrants entering their soil, there has been a swift build-up along the Greece-Macedonia border as boats full of refugees continue to arrive on Greek beaches from Turkey.

Athens warned last week that it could be stuck with up to 70,000 people trapped on its territory.

Gerovassili said there were 25,000 migrants and refugees currently in Greece and that Macedonia was only allowing “a few dozen” through every day.

Over 7,000 people — many of them stranded in near the Idomeni border crossing for days — spent a freezing night and awoke under wet canvas among sodden wheat fields.

The UN refugee agency said at least 1,500 people had spent the previous night in the open and that tensions in the Idomeni camp were running high.

“The crowded conditions are leading to shortages of food, shelter, water and sanitation. Tensions have been building, fuelling violence and playing into the hands of people smugglers,” the UNHCR said.

It added that Greek authorities had set up two additional camps near Idomeni for 12,500 people with the assistance of the army, and were building a third.

Greek news agency ANA said another 6,000 people were waiting to cross to the mainland after landing on islands in the Aegean from neighbouring Turkey.

Gerovassili said the Greek army was helping feed some 10,000 people.

Thousands more are fed by aid and church groups and the cash-strapped government, which received a third huge international bailout last year, has put out a call for private donations of food, medicine and health supplies.

Gerovassili warned that arrivals from Turkey showed no sign of slowing down despite the recent deployment of NATO warships to help the Turkish coastguard tackle people-smugglers sending migrants to Greece.

“There has not been a significant reduction in the flow,” she said. “Today there were just over 1,000 (new arrivals) which is considered ordinary. “Despite pledges to relocate 66,400 refugees from Greece, EU states have so far only pledged 1,539 spaces, and only 325 actual relocations have occurred, the UNHCR said.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2016