The Red Cross is already warning what Greek and European officials have feared— a major humanitarian crisis involving tens of thousands of refugees trapped in the country without an open path to northern nations.
“The Greek capital is buckling under pressure,” the Red Cross said in a statement, adding that “erratic border regulations have left thousands stranded in Greece and are putting Athens under extreme pressure as the city struggles to meet the basic needs of migrants.”
Greek government officials slammed Austria and nine other Balkan nations which unilaterally decided to create their own refugee policy without any consult or involvement of the European Union.
European Union members Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia— as well as Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Fyrom, Montenegro and Serbia, which are not EU members, met in Austria to develop their own policy on handling the flow of refugees.
The meeting— which didn’t include Greece or Germany, the two nations at the center of the refugee crisis, was heavily criticized by Greece, which pulled its ambassador from Vienna, calling the act “unfriendly.”
“Greece will not become the Lebanon of Europe, a warehouse for souls,” Ioannis Mouzalas, Greek minister for migration, told reporters in Brussels on Thursday at an EU meeting on the crisis.
He slammed the 10 nations who were set to create their own refugee policy by closing their borders and trapping tens of thousands in Greece.
“A very large number [of nations]here attempt to discuss how to address a humanitarian crisis in Greece that they themselves intend to create.”
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner in charge of migration and a former Greek foreign minister, said that a contingency plan for a major aid operation was already drawn up and would be finalized within days.
“The possibility of a humanitarian crisis of a large scale is there and very real,” Avramopoulos said.
The latest crisis has seen former adversaries come together and former allies ferociously split.
Greece and Germany both hope for a coordinated European effort, a highly unlikely scenario given the eastern nations’— especially Hungary— staunch opposition to Muslim refugees on European soil.
Germany is in stark opposition with long-time ally Austria, which took the step to organize the Balkan meeting.
Avramopoulos warned of a complete breakdown of the European system.
“There is a danger, there’s a risk, that the whole system will completely break down,” Avramopoulos said in a story in Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, as Europe bickers and fails to come up with a unified policy, the three transit centers for refugees in Athens are operating at maximum capacity and the city is struggling to find a place to house those arriving by the day, who cannot venture across Greece’s northern border.
The Red Cross is also assisting 1,200 Afghani refugees who were stuck at Idomeni, Greece’s northern border with Fyrom, but were sent back when the country closed its borders to Afghanis.
“For the past three days we have distributed food, water and hygiene items to more than 1,900 migrants at the port of Piraeus,” said Angelica Fanaki, Head of Migration Operations at the Hellenic Red Cross. “Our staff and volunteers also provide emergency items and safe spaces for children at the temporary Eleonas centre in Athens. We are fully prepared to scale up our efforts at the two other centres and elsewhere as needed.”
“We remain extremely concerned about the effects of these sudden restrictions on top of all the fear and uncertainty people have already faced in their home countries and along the perilous journey to Europe,” Fanaki said.