Idomeni / AFP
Greece said on Monday it was taking action to persuade Macedonia to take in Afghan migrants as thousands remained stranded at the border and the main port in Athens.
“We have begun diplomatic moves… we believe the problem will be resolved,” junior interior minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas told parliamentary television, without elaborating on what steps were being taken.
Some 5,000 refugees and migrants are stuck at the border with Macedonia after the neighbouring state on Sunday refused to allow passage to Afghans, police said.
Another 3,000 people were blocked in Athens after landing at the port of Piraeus from the Aegean islands, a government source said, adding that officials were scrambling to find room for them. “We do not expect a (diplomatic) solution today,” the government source said, adding: “We will accommodate the Afghans whilst trying to prevent overcrowding at any of the facilities available.”
The arrival last year of more than one million refugees and migrants in Europe, many fleeing war, poverty and persecution, has caused a chain reaction of border clampdowns among several member states.
As the main gateway into the EU, Greece has been struggling to cope with the new arrivals and fears new restrictions by other members will leave tens of thousands of people stranded on its territory.
Despite strong objections from the European Union, Austria on Friday introduced a daily limit on asylum seekers entering and registering in the country, triggering fears of a domino effect along the so-called Balkan migrant route.
It was the latest example of unilateral action taken by an EU country to stem the migrant flow, as the bloc struggles to cope with the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II.
Hungary on Monday also reported a sharp rise in the numbers of migrants breaching its southern borders in February, the first significant surge since the frontiers were sealed last year.
Around 1,500 migrants tried to enter the EU member state illegally from Serbia this month, with 500 alone caught between Friday and Sunday, police said in a statement.
Austrian move â€˜unacceptableâ€™
Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Sunday hit out at the “unacceptable” move by Vienna, which is now planning its own mini-summit with western Balkan leaders on Wednesday.
De Maiziere told ARD public television that although Austria would now accept only 80 asylum seekers a day, it was still letting 3,200 people a day through.
“It won’t work if some countries think they can solve the problem by putting extra weight on Germany’s back,” he said, accusing Vienna of failing to carry out adequate checks on those being let through.
De Maiziere said he intended bringing up the issue at the next gathering of EU interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday.
Greece thought it had secured an open-borders pledge from fellow EU members at a summit in Brussels on Friday.