Greek capital buckling under pressure as the number of stranded migrants grows

Published: 25 February 2016 10:44 CET
The Hellenic Red Cross provides emergency relief to the Afghan migrants and those who are denied access in Greece to the rest of the migratory route. Caroline Haga/IFRC

By Caroline Haga, IFRC

Erratic border regulations that have left thousands stranded in Greece are putting Athens under extreme pressure as the city struggles to meet the basic needs of migrants.

New border controls introduced on 21 February have denied Afghan migrants and everyone without official identification documents access to the rest of the migratory route. Significantly fewer Syrians and Iraqis have been allowed to cross the border as a result. At the same time, more than 11,000 people have arrived on the Greek shores, according to UNHCR.

Athens transit centres full

The three transit centres in Athens are operating at maximum capacity. The city is struggling to find places for those arriving, as well as for the 1,200 Afghans that have been transported back from Idomeni, on Greece’s northern border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Since the migration crisis began, Hellenic Red Cross staff and volunteers have been helping migrants at every stage of their journey from the islands of arrival to Idomeni. Emergency aid distribution points were quickly set up to support those stranded in Athens.

“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.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent is working in 28 countries across Europe with more than 84,000 volunteers. More than 644,000 people have been reached so far with medical care, emergency supplies and help to reconnect with loved ones lost along the route.

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