Reception bottlenecks leave migrants stranded in Greece, Serbia

2015-10-03 07:29
A family tries to keep warm shortly after arriving at Lesbos. (Santi Palacios, AP)

A family tries to keep warm shortly after arriving at Lesbos. (Santi Palacios, AP)

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Belgrade - Overwhelmed reception facilities on Greek islands and in southern Serbia run counter to EU relocation plans and have forced thousands to sleep in the open, authorities and aid organisations said on Friday.

Greek islands ports were still crowded with up to 14 000 people every day, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards said in Geneva.

People would move on to the Balkans on their own if they had no shelter in Greece while awaiting transfer, he added.

"UNHCR is concerned that the lack of reception capacity in Greece could seriously jeopardise the relocation programme agreed upon by the European Council," Edwards warned.

Arrivals on Greek islands have dropped over the past days because windy weather has made the sea journey from Turkey difficult.

The Greek Coast Guard said on Friday that it had rescued 259 migrants at sea within 24 hours.

Also on Friday, about 2 600 migrants were taken on two ferries from the island of Lesbos to the mainland from where they told reporters they hoped to travel on to Western Europe.

Athens opened its moth-balled Olympic Hall from the 2004 games on Thursday to accommodate 800 migrants.

The coast guard said there were plans to open registration centres on some of the Aegean islands with EU aid.

Worsening weather meant numbers were dropping, with one coast guard from Chios telling dpa on Friday that he had seen 60% fewer migrants this week.

The Greek and Turkish foreign ministers, Nikos Kotzias and Feridun Sinirlioglu, announced after meeting in New York that they had agreed to co-operate more closely on the migrant issue, the Greek Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said at the beginning of the week that 388 000 migrants had landed in Greece since the start of the year, most of them travelling over Turkey from Syria.

Further along the route to Western Europe, around 4 000 Middle Eastern refugees were forced to spend the night in the open in southern Serbia, waiting to be registered after crossing the Macedonian border, authorities and aid workers said.


Around 5 700 arrived in the 24 hours prior to Thursday afternoon at the Serbian border reception centre in Miratovac, an aid worker in nearby Presevo told dpa.

The Presevo registration centre, about 6km away from Miratovac, has only been capable of processing around 3 000 people per day.

The backlog has left frustrated refugees waiting for hours on the pavement in front of the reception centre, the worker added, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the press.

After their registration, the authorities shuttle the refugees with private buses to Belgrade or directly to the Croatian border.

They then pass through another reception centre before the authorities in Croatia shuttle them to the Hungarian border.

Migrants are facing increasingly adverse weather in the Balkans, the Red Cross warned.

"The change in conditions brings with it severe health and safety risks to people who have already travelled thousands of miles, often with limited access to food, basic necessities, shelter or health care," the aid organisation said in Geneva.

Refugees began using Croatia as a transit point after Budapest sealed its border with Serbia to migrants on September 15. Since then, 94 200 people have illegally crossed the Serbia-Croatia border, the authorities in Zagreb said on Friday.

All but around 500 were transferred to Hungary, which is mulling the possibility of sealing the border with EU-partner Croatia as well to keep the refugees out.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has taken an openly hostile stance toward the migration influx, on Friday described the refugees as an "army".

"80% of the immigrants are young men. They are like an army of asylum seekers. They are uneducated and speak only Arabic," he told the state radio.

The majority of new arrivals hope to apply for asylum in Germany, France and Sweden. Of the hundreds of thousands who journey across the so-called Balkan migration route, only a handful seek shelter in one of the transit countries.

Read more on:    unhcr  |  serbia  |  greece  |  migrants  |  weather

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