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Experts: With Winter Near, Europe Needs to Do More for Refugees

Europe’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II is far from over. Refugees in huge numbers are traveling through the Balkans to reach their destinations in the rich countries of the European Union. But as winter approaches, there is an urgent need for more funds to accommodate the migrants.

Mild weather in Europe has so far contributed to the continuing high numbers of migrants arriving in Europe via the Mediterranean.

But with harsh winter conditions expected soon in the region, the suffering of the thousands of migrants travelling through the Balkans is likely to worsen, and may result in further loss of life if adequate measures are not taken.

The international community should react now, says Johns Hopkins University professor Charles Gati, a specialist in Europe and Eurasia.

"The Balkan countries need and require extensive financial support to handle this. Most recently, Chancellor Merkel offered three billion euros to Turkey to cooperate and do what needs to be done. It’s not easy, and it may not be enough. But I hope their goodwill will help," said Gati.

U.S. Coast Guard aviator Brian Lisko has spent much of his career working with search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. He praises European efforts to deal with migrants coming by sea.

“They’ve done an admirable job when they are confronted with thousands of people and unsafe boats. The human smugglers are making money at the expense of the safety and welfare of these migrants. They [the Europeans] are doing a very good job saving lives at sea," said Lisko.

Kathleen Newland co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute, says the 10,000 migrants the U.S. has agreed to accept is not really enough to help with the crisis.

“I think over time, the United States will begin to accept more Syrian refugees for resettlement here in the United States. But our procedures and our security screening for refugees is extremely bureaucratic and cumbersome and slow and expensive. So we are going to need to streamline our procedures a bit more – a lot more," said Newland.

The UNHCR last week appealed to donors for $96 million in additional support for the winter months for Greece and affected countries in the Balkans. The so-called “Winterization Plan” focuses on putting measures in place to support countries such as Croatia, Greece, Serbia, Slovenia and Macedonia - to avert the risk of humanitarian tragedy and loss of life during the winter months.