GENEVA, SWITZERLAND —
The United Nations refugee agency warns Europe is on the verge of an explosive self-induced humanitarian crisis, which could spiral out of control and result in widespread violence.
The agency reports the number of refugees and migrants in Greece in need of shelter has soared to 24,000. This, it says, includes around 8,500 people stranded near the border with Macedonia. It says the crowded conditions are leading to shortages of food, shelter, water and sanitation.
Vincent Cochetel is UNHCR's refugee crisis in Europe coordinator. He says the congestion at border crossings along the Balkan migratory route is leading to frustration among the migrants and refugees.
“They do not understand that they can no longer move onward, that they have to queue; they have to go through the relocation process - for those eligible for relocation and it is not everybody. So, there is a lot of frustration building up, which may lead to acts of violence,” said Cochetel.
Migrants rest under a tree at the Victoria Square in Athens, Greece, March 1, 2016.
A peaceful protest Monday near the Macedonian border turned violent as police threw tear gas canisters to force refugees and migrants away from the razor-wire fence.
Nearly 132,000 people, half of them women and children, have made the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing this year, exceeding the total for the first half of 2015. Almost all have landed in Greece.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says the European Union must absolutely go through with the plan it approved last year for an equitable relocation of refugees among its 28 members.
“It should concern everyone that despite commitments to relocate 66,400 refugees from Greece, states have so far pledged only 1,539 spaces, and only 325 actual relocations have occurred,” he said.
The UNHCR says Greece must urgently increase its ability to accommodate and support the masses of people arriving and that more resources, and better coordination among EU member states, are critical.