Governor asks Greece to declare state of emergency over border crossing

IDOMENI, Greece -- A regional governor called on the Greek government Saturday to declare a state of emergency for the area surrounding the Idomeni border crossing where thousands of migrants are stranded due to border restrictions along the route toward western Europe.

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Some 13,000-14,000 people are trapped in Idomeni, while another 6,000-7,000 are being housed in refugee camps around the region, said Apostolos Tzitzikostas, governor of the Greek region of Central Macedonia. That means the area handles about 60 per cent of the total number of migrants in the country.

"It's a huge humanitarian crisis. I have asked the government to declare the area in a state of emergency," Tzitzikostas said during a visit to Idomeni to distribute aid to the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations. "This cannot continue for much longer."

The neighbouring former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia has stopped all but a trickle of Iraqi and Syrian refugees from crossing, following similar restrictions by countries further north on the migration route. The moves have caused a massive bottleneck in Greece, whose islands' proximity to the Turkish coast has made it the preferred entry point for refugees and other migrants seeking better lives in Europe.

Greek authorities said only about 180 people crossed the border between 6 a.m. Friday and the same time Saturday morning.

"The former Yugoslav republic needs to open immediately to borders and the European Union needs to implement severe action against the countries that are closing borders today, whether they are members of the European Union or candidate members," Tzitzikostas said. "This is unacceptable what they are doing."

The governor said the region needed the emergency measures -- or alternatively for the law to be amended -- so that regional authorities can obtain the necessary emergency supplies and food to support the refugees and improve their living conditions. He also called on the government to provide a comprehensive plan on how to handle the migration crisis.

The refugee camp at Idomeni has a capacity of about 2,000 and has dramatically overflowed, with new arrivals daily setting up small tents along the railway tracks next to the camp and spilling out into surrounding fields.

Hundreds of men, women and children arrive each day, walking more than 15 kilometres (about 10 miles) from a nearby gas station where an impromptu camp has been set up. Greek authorities have been trying to discourage more people from arriving due to the bottleneck, but many prefer to wait at the border than in other refugee camps set up nearby, in the hope of getting into the massive queue waiting to cross.

The European Union and Turkey will hold a summit on Monday to discuss the refugee crisis which has severely strained relations among EU countries.

"We are expecting Turkey to start finally doing what it should be doing for months now and we also expect our European partners to start receiving refugees in their countries," the governor said. "There needs to be a proportional distribution between the countries."


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