EU calls for Greece relief as migrant arrivals hit 1 million
Mar. 16, 2016
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The European Union told member states Wednesday they "urgently need to deliver" on commitments to resettle more refugees on the continent, as the number of refugees arriving in Greece since the start of 2015 reached the 1 million mark.
The demand came on the eve of a summit of leaders from the EU and Turkey that aims to try and limit the number of refugees coming to Europe.
"We need to see a substantial increase in relocations in the coming days and weeks," EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said. "With the humanitarian situation in Greece getting more acute every day, member states urgently need to deliver on their commitments and prevent a further deterioration of the situation for refugees in Greece."
U.N. refugee agency envoy Angelina Jolie was in Athens on Wednesday to visit overcrowded refugee shelters, as the number of refugees stranded in Greece neared 44,000.
Success of the deal with Turkey relies heavily on scaling up of EU's relocation scheme for mostly Syrian refugees. Fewer than 1,000 people have so far been resettled in the EU under the scheme, but the European Commission said Wednesday it wanted 20,000 placements in the next two months.
So far, most migrants have traveled to Europe through the Greek islands from nearby Turkey — a number that topped 1 million since the start of 2015, according to the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR.
Greek officials reiterated Wednesday they had no plans to use force to evacuate a squalid refugee camp at Idomeni, on the Greek-Macedonian border, where some 14,000 people are living in harsh conditions.
So far, refugees camped out there have ignored government appeals to move to other shelters in northern Greece, still hoping that Balkan borders will reopen. That could change if the Brussels summit confirms that the way north will remain closed in the long term.
"The people there take as strong an interest in the summit meeting as if they were journalists ... and everyone is waiting to see what will happen tomorrow," Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman for Greece's emergency response committee, told the AP.
Kyritsis said right now there is space for up to 2,000 more people in shelters near Idomeni, while by the beginning of next week another 8,000 places will be available in the area.
Jamey Keaten in Paris and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.
Follow Gatopoulos at http://twitter.com/dgatopoulos