The build-up of refugees in Greece and the introduction of border restrictions across Europe is leading to a humanitarian crisis, the UN’s refugee agency warned Tuesday.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also spoke out against the disproportionate use of force at borders after Macedonian police used tear gas and stun grenades against refugees at the Greek border on Monday.
“The UNHCR is warning today that Europe is on the cusp of a largely self-induced humanitarian crisis,” the agency’s spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news conference in Geneva.
“This is in light of a rapid build-up of people in an already struggling Greece, with governments not working together despite having already reached agreements in a number of areas, and country after country imposing new border restrictions.”
He said inconsistent practices were “causing unnecessary suffering” and risked breaking EU and international laws.
The number of refugees needing accommodation in Greece reached 22,000 on Monday night, Edwards added.
UNHCR Regional Refugee Coordinator Vincent Cochetel said more than 122,000 arrived in Greece during the first two months of the year, compared to 120,000 for the first half of 2015.
“That gives you an idea of the volume of the movement to Greece at this stage,” he said. “Greece needs a safety valve… it is time for Europe to wake up, either we have a massive orderly relocation from Greece or a repeat of what we saw last year, more chaos and confusion.”
The majority of the arrivals are women and children, with many fleeing recent violence in northern Syria.
According to UNHCR, 410 refugees have died in the Mediterranean so far this year.
The UN is calling for better contingency planning in Greece and increased shelter to prevent a new crisis. It warned that the relocation scheme agreed by EU leaders last year should be prioritized.
In September, member states agreed to relocate 160,000 refugees, primarily from “frontline” nations Greece and Italy.
However, Edwards noted that states had relocated just 325 refugees from Greece.