European governments are bracing for a major humanitarian emergency in Greece amid rising panic that the European Union’s (EU) fragmented efforts to cope with its migration crisis are nearing breakdown.
EU interior ministers met in Brussels on Thursday in their latest attempt to forge a common response, but the meeting was clouded by a ferocious row between Greece and Austria, which is spearheading a campaign to quarantine Greece and throttle the flow of migrants up the Balkans by partially sealing the Greek border with Macedonia, The Guardian reported.
If Greece is cut off from the rest of Europe’s free-travel Schengen area, Berlin predicts a humanitarian and security emergency within days.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner in charge of migration, said contingency planning for a major aid operation was highly advanced and would be finalised within days.
“The possibility of a humanitarian crisis of a large scale is there and very real,” he said.
Austria provoked the fury of the Greeks, the Germans and the European Commission by announcing last week it was limiting the number of people who could claim asylum to 80 a day, and then on Wednesday unilaterally convening a meeting of 10 Balkan countries aimed at halting the refugee flow and returning them to Greece. The Austrians did not invite the Greeks or the Germans, two pivotal countries.
Athens has reacted furiously to the latest developments, recalling its ambassador from Vienna, accusing Austria of 19th-century behaviour, and blaming Europe for creating a crisis it was now preparing to relieve.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is threatening to block decisions at EU summits unless there is a major shift towards coherent policy-making.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, 100,000 have arrived in Greece since the start of the year, a tenfold increase on the same period last year.