The European Union will Wednesday announce plans for emergency aid to Greece which is struggling to cope with an influx of migrants with thousands stuck in misery at its border after Balkan states tightened their frontiers.
Greece has asked for around 480 million euros ($520 million) to help shelter 100,000 refugees as Europe faces its biggest wave of refugees since World War II in a crisis that has sown deep discord and threatened the bloc’s solidarity.
NATO’s top General Philip Breedlove warned that the massive flow of people into the EU particularly from war-torn Syria has had a destabilising effect.
He specifically pointed the finger of blame at Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his backer Russia, accusing them of turning the migrant crisis into a “weapon” against the West.
“Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponising migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve,” Breedlove told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Greece has been struggling to cope with the influx of migrants who have been arriving en masse from neighbouring Turkey.
EU humanitarian aid commissioner Christos Stylianides said on Twitter that he would Wednesday propose “an instrument for emergency assistance inside the EU”. He confirmed that “Greece asks for more assistance for stranded refugees … I call on all member states to contribute further”.
The money will come from aid funds that would normally be spent on humanitarian emergencies outside the bloc.
A Greek source told AFP said about half the total would go on accommodating 50,000 refugees in camps while the rest would go on hotels and lodgings.
Greece says looking after the migrants will require around 8,200 officials — police, firemen, medical staff, field workers and translators.
– Tensions at ‘Jungle’ camp –
As Athens appealed for help, tensions were high in the northern French port of Calais where demolition workers tore down makeshift shelters in the grim “Jungle” camp which has become a magnet for people hoping to reach Britain.
Some sat on the roofs of their shacks, covered in blankets against the driving rain and freezing wind in a bid to stop their temporary homes from being pulled apart.
Officials tried to convince inhabitants to leave voluntarily and move to better accommodation provided for them, but many refused, fearing it will take them further from their goal of reaching Britain.
There was no repeat of the violent clashes that erupted on Monday, but some remained defiant in the face of the bulldozers.
“We have already seen prison and torture, this doesn’t scare us,” a migrant told one of the teams.
Officials say the demolition will affect between 800 and 1,000 people, although charities working there say there are more than 3,450 people in the southern half of the camp being demolished, including 300 unaccompanied children.
One Sudanese migrant, Nureen, watched as the destruction moved gradually towards his makeshift home. He had been told to leave by Wednesday morning.
“Unfortunately, we cannot fight the police,” he said. “There is nothing for us to do. We will just be left in the cold winter.”
– Greek misery –
The late winter freeze brought similar misery to Greece’s border with Macedonia.
More than 7,000 people have been stuck on the frontier after Balkan states imposed a tight daily limit on the number of migrants allowed to enter.
Bleak scenes saw the refugees stranded in mud-soaked fields and fighting over food distributed from the back of a van.
“We have been waiting for six days,” said Farah, a 32-year-old Syrian, as a van distributing canned food and long-life milk was quickly mobbed and emptied in minutes.
“The food is not enough, everyone is lying to us and we are desperate,” she said.
The situation has sparked growing criticism of countries that have capped the number of migrants they are willing to let in, under the strain of a flood of people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East — notably Syria.
The UN said more than 131,000 migrants had crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year, more than the total number for the first five months of 2015.
The EU lashed out at Macedonian police for tear-gassing desperate refugees who tried to force their way across the border with Greece on Monday, saying it was “not our idea of managing the crisis”.
In a bid to ease the deep divisions over the crisis, EU president Donald Tusk set off Tuesday on a tour taking him to Vienna and the Balkan states, as well as Turkey, the main departure point for refugees, where he will press for “a more intensive engagement” from the government.
Germany, which registered 1.1 million migrants in 2015, said it had reached an agreement with Tunisia to speed up the repatriation of rejected asylum-seekers from the North African country, which it considers safe.