70,000 may become trapped in Greece

Updated: 2016-02-29 02:49

By AGENCIES(China Daily)

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70,000 may become trapped in Greece

Stranded refugees and migrants hoist a boy in a wheelchair during a protest at the Greek-Macedonian border fence near the Greek village of Idomeni on Saturday. YANNIS BEHRAKISL/REUTERS

Greece said on Sunday the number of refugees and migrants on its soil could more than triple next month, reaching as many as 70,000 people, as a cap on border crossings by Balkan countries left them trapped in the country.

"We estimate the number of those trapped will be between 50,000 and 70,000 next month," Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said.

"Today, there are 22,000 refugees and migrants," he said in a television interview.

About 6,500 people were stuck at the Idomeni camp on the Greek border with Macedonia on Sunday as Macedonian border officials allowed only 300 refugees and migrants to pass the day before.

Numbers began to mount in earnest at the 1,500-capacity camp last week after Macedonia began refusing entry to Afghans and imposed stricter document controls on Syrians and Iraqis.

The bottleneck is expected to worsen after European Union members Slovenia and Croatia, as well as Serbia and Macedonia, imposed a limit of 580 migrants crossing their borders each day.

The measures came after a clampdown by Austria, which lies farther up the migrant trail that extends from the Balkans to Germany and Scandinavia.

Austria introduced a daily cap of 80 asylum seekers and said it would only admit 3,200 migrants transiting the country.

The tighter controls have had a significant effect in Greece, where migrants have been arriving en masse from neighboring Turkey.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told parliament on Wednesday, "Greece, from now on, will not assent to agreements if the proportionate distribution of the burden and responsibility among all member states is not rendered obligatory."