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An Iraqi refugee holds her son near Greece's northern border.

UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

Refugees At Border Bottleneck

Thousands of men, women and children, mainly fleeing danger in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, run into barriers.

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  • Photos by
    Achilleas Zavallis
  • Written by
    Tania Karas
4 March 2016 4 March 2016

Thousands of refugees face an uncertain future in Greece after the Western Balkan route to Northern Europe has all but closed down. But more are still coming every day. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia now admits only a few hundred Syrians and Iraqis per day, creating an enormous backlog at the border crossing of Idomeni. The knock-on effect creates more bottlenecks at the port of Piraeus in Athens.

Even some of those with passports or official ID cards may not be able to cross. Afghans are barred completely. It is the latest in a series of restrictions imposed by Austria and several Balkan countries aimed at stemming the flow of refugees and migrants northwards where many say they want to go.

Earlier this week, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, warned Europe faced an imminent humanitarian crisis, largely of its own making, following a rapid build-up of people in already over-stretched Greece. In Greece this week some 30,000 people are in need of assistance and accommodation – over one third of whom are here in Idomeni.

On a recent visit to Greece, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi expressed concern at border closures and the inability of European countries to face the refugee crisis with generosity and unity.

But he also said UNHCR and the Greek authorities must start planning for a situation where more than a few thousand people are stuck in Greece.

“Europe has successfully dealt with large-scale refugee movements in the past, and can deal with this one, provided it acts in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility sharing,” said High Commissioner Grandi. “There is really no other option than working together to solve this.”