Faced with a massive bottleneck and continued influx of refugees arriving in— and trapped in Greece, the European Union announced a €700 million humanitarian relief package to assist with Athens’ handling of the crisis.
When Austria and other European states in the Balkan route between Greece and northern Europe closed borders in February, the move trapped tens of thousands of refugees who were trying to pass through Greece.
Scenes of unthinkable misery are happening across Greece’s northern border with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, as well as the center of Athens where tent camps have popped up in the city’s squares.
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The funds are intended to buy tents, food, medicine and to provide other basic services. Some estimates place the number of trapped refugees at 20,000-30,000, while more continue to arrive on Greece’s frontier islands daily.
The Washington Post said that most of the refugees trapped in Greece are women and children and that parts of Greece were becoming massive refugee camps.
Prior to the European Union’s announcement of support, aid agencies called Europe’s response as “unconscionable”.
The UNHCR said the continent stood “on the cusp of a largely self-induced humanitarian crisis”, with governments “not working together despite agreements … and country after country imposing new border restrictions”
In a scathing statement, Human Rights Watch condemned the EU’s “utter failure to respond collectively and compassionately to refugee flows”.
Human Rights Watch said the chaos in northern Greece was a direct result of the border restrictions imposed by Austria and the other nations.
“Trapping asylum seekers in Greece is an unconscionable and short-sighted non-solution,” said Eva Cossé, HRW’s Greece specialist. She said it was “ludicrous” that while the EU had agreed a relocation plan, “some countries’ actions risk turning Greece into a giant refugee camp”.
Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras warned a week ago that his country was being turned into a “permanent warehouse of souls,” as a result of the European Union’s inability to come up with a unified solution to the crisis.
“We will not accept turning the country into a permanent warehouse of souls with Europe continuing to function as if nothing is happening,” Tsipras told the Greek parliament last week.