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Feb 22, 2016 12:28 PM

Greece braces for growing number of stranded migrants

The Associated Press

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) Greece's government said Monday that it expects a growing number of stranded refugees and other migrants because the European Union is failing to deal with unilateral actions and an "outburst of scare-mongering" by individual member states.

Macedonia further restricted at the border with Greece over the weekend, sparking protests by Afghan nationals at a border crossing.

Macedonia imposed the restrictions at the weekend after Austria put a cap on transit and asylum applications.

The action blocking Afghans from crossing the border and generally restricting access left thousands of migrants stranded in Greece, at the border and at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, where regular private services to the border were suspended.

"Once again the European Union voted for something, it reached an agreement, and a number of countries who are lacking the culture of the European Union including Austria, unfortunately violated this deal 10 hours after it was reached," Ioannis Mouzalas, a deputy minister for migration, told state-run ERT television.

"The European Union cannot act in a united way to this outburst of scare-mongering from various countries. And that is creating problems, and these problems also involve our country."

Macedonian officials said Monday they restricted the entrance of Afghan migrants from Greece following similar action from Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, who in recent days have returned to Macedonia more than 600 Afghans deemed to be economic migrants.

Macedonia's ombudsman Ixhet Memeti told private TV Telma that about 1,500 more are expected to be deported to Macedonia soon from countries further north on the Balkan corridor, which migrants follow to reach wealthier European countries.

A senior Macedonian foreign ministry official said Croatian authorities discovered several Afghans who posed as war refugees had actually lived and worked for some time in Greece, and took advantage of the wave of migration to seek asylum further north. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Nearly 100,000 migrants and refugees have traveled to the Greek islands from nearby Turkey so far this year. The coast guard said 4,427 migrants and refugees arrived in Piraeus from the eastern Aegean islands Monday. The large number of arrivals on the mainland was due to better weather after several stormy days forced the suspension of ferry services from the islands.

Police said about 2,000 people were stranded at in camps near the Greek border town of Idomeni, including some 600 Afghans who staged a peaceful protest, holding up Afghan flags and hand-written banners.

Later, hundreds broke through a Greek police cordon and crowded at the border fence, trying to climb it or cut through the wire netting. At least four men made it over, and were promptly arrested by police on the Macedonian side.

Among the protesting Afghans was 25-year-old Shafiulahh Qaberi who traveled to Greece from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.

"We've been here for three days, and no one knows why they have closed the border," he told the AP. "I don't need food and I don't need water. What I need is to get over the border. Why are they stopping us?"

Freight train service between Greece and Macedonia was also suspended after protesters blocked the railway line on the Greek side.


Konstantin Testorides in Skopje contributed to this story.


Follow Kantouris at http://www.twitter.com/CostasKantouris


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