U.N. denounces restrictions of refugees, calls for unity in Europe

Police at the Greek border with Macedonia removed hundreds of Afghan migrants stranded at a camp there

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The United Nations refugee agency on Tuesday decried “restrictive practices” imposed by countries including Austria, Slovenia and Macedonia, and called on Europe to have a coordinated approach to share responsibility in the crisis.

“With every passing week, it appears some European countries are focusing on keeping refugees and migrants out more than on responsibly managing the flow and working on common solutions,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement urging states to provide clear details on admission criteria.

Earlier on Tuesday, Greece made a strongly worded complaint to Austria for drastically restricting migrant crossings, as police at the Greek border with Macedonia removed hundreds of Afghan migrants stranded at a camp there.

Athens has criticized Austria’s decision last week to cap the daily number of asylum applications and migrants crossing the country — an action that has left thousands stranded in Greece.

The Austrian ambassador to Greece was summoned to the foreign ministry to receive the complaint Tuesday after Austria invited officials from western Balkan countries to a meeting on migration in Vienna Wednesday, excluding Greece.

The ministry described the meeting as a “unilateral move which is not at all friendly toward our country.”

More than 1 million migrants and refugees reached the EU last year, with more than 80 percent of them traveling from Turkey to nearby Greek islands. Arrivals have continued this year at an average of 4,000 each day

The Austrian initiative prompted Macedonia at the weekend to stop Afghan migrants at the border, and slow the rate at which asylum-seekers from Syria and Iraq were allowed to cross the border.

In France, hundreds of migrants camped in the port of Calais face a deadline Tuesday evening to move out. , However, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve insisted the evacuation would be “progressive.”

In an early morning operation, police at the Greek-Macedonian border ordered mostly Afghan migrants on to buses bound for Athens, in the south of the country. Journalists were not allowed to approach the area.

The migrants were to be taken to an army-built camp near Athens that was set up last week, following European Union pressure on Athens to complete screening and temporary housing facilities.

Mirwais Amin, a 20-year-old Afghan migrant, said he was separated from relatives after being stopping from reaching the border and camping out at a nearby site.

“Macedonia isn’t letting migrants through. I can’t understand why,” he said.

“I can’t get to the (border) camp, and members of my family are there. It’s cold here and we have no food.”

The relief agency International Rescue Committee late Monday said Macedonia’s decision to turn Afghans away was “yet another example of arbitrary, unilateral decisions by individual states threatening to cause serious humanitarian consequences for desperate refugees.”

Bill Frelick, refugee program director at Human Rights Watch, accused EU countries of turning a blind eye to plight of Afghan asylum-seekers.

“Once again, Europe is resorting to closing its borders to asylum-seekers, instead of coming up with realistic policies to address the plight of those fleeing war and repression, he said.

“By pushing the refugee crisis back into Greece and Turkey, other European and EU countries are ignoring their obligations toward legitimate asylum-seekers.”

Migrant flows to Europe

More than 110,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece and Italy already this year, a sharp increase on 2015, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday.

They include around at least 102,500 landing on Greek islands including Samos, Kos and Lesbos, and 7,500 in Italy, the IOM said in a statement.

"Over 410 migrants and refugees have also lost their lives during the same period, with the eastern Mediterranean route between Turkey and Greece continuing to be the deadliest, accounting for 321 deaths," the IOM said.

Last year, the figure of 100,000 refugees and migrants was not reached until the end of June, according to IOM figures.

IOM spokesman Itayi Viriri noted that the figure of 100,000 had already been exceeded this year despite rough sea conditions
in recent days on the route from Libya to Italy.

Migrants arriving in Italy are often in "very bad condition, having been subjected to violence by smugglers in Libya", the IOM said, adding that women were subjected to human trafficking.