Media CenterCRS Responds to Thousands of Refugees Arriving in Greece
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and our partner, Caritas, continue to respond to the increasing needs of refugees and migrants arriving by the thousands in Greece. On Sunday, Feb. 21, Macedonia closed its border with Greece to all Afghan nationals, allowing only Syrian and Iraqi refugees to cross and continue their journey to northern European countries.
"There are still 2,000-3,000 refugees and migrants arriving in Greece every day. Now, only half of them are moving forward at the Macedonia border,” says Josh Kyller, who oversees CRS’ emergency response in the Balkans. “With reduced legal options, there’s a great risk for smuggling, trafficking and splitting up families.”
Thousands of Afghan refugees and migrants, who make up a third of all refugees and migrants arriving in Europe, have been left in limbo by the border closing and are now stranded in Greece, a country already struggling to keep up with the enormous refugee influx.
CRS works with our local partners, Caritas Greece and Caritas Athens, to provide basic services to refugees passing through on their way to northern Europe. This includes temporary shelter in previously vacant, now revamped motels, hot meals at a soup kitchen and referrals to legal aid and social workers. CRS plans to reach more than 200,000 people in Greece over the coming months.
In Idomeni, the main border crossing point to Macedonia, Caritas is distributing food to those waiting to cross, or, for many Afghans, now trying to figure out their next move. Rino Pistone, Caritas Hellas’ coordinator in Idomeni, said distributions continue daily despite chaotic conditions as tensions are high.
The refugee crisis in Europe continues to grow with increasing numbers of refugees fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. The number of refugees and migrants in Europe surpassed 1 million in December 2015, with the majority of people arriving in Greece.
“Needs are mounting for accommodating this large influx of people, and with the further restrictions at the border with Macedonia, that is falling on the Greek government, people and the humanitarian community to address,” Kyller adds. “This means places for people to stay, information in terms of how to seek asylum, and all of the basic necessities like food, water and clothing—and it’s easy to see this becoming tens of thousands of people in the coming days and weeks staying in Greece.”
CRS and our partners in Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Albania and Germany are providing thousands of refugees with food, clothing, sanitation and temporary shelter. We have also provided legal and interpretation services to help refugees make informed decisions. Our support helps those who are most vulnerable—typically women, children and the elderly. In addition to offering refugees services along their main migration route, CRS is preparing partners to respond in Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Bulgaria, in case more borders close and the migration route changes.
“This is a global problem causing vulnerable people to flee conflict, persecution and poverty,” Kyller says. “The burden is now increasingly falling on the shoulders of countries, citizens and the humanitarian community to manage at the periphery, and all are being pushed to their limits. This needs the attention of global leaders to come up with global comprehensive and compassionate solutions.”