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Catholic Aid leader alarms emergence of a new state of emergency due to refugee crisis at Greece-Macedonia border

With a rising number of refugees and migrants, traveling across the Mediterranean Sea to seek safe asylum in Greece, the migrant crisis in Greece is entering a new stage of emergency where some 12,000 migrants and refugees are stuck on its border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia unable to continue their journey.

A state of emergency would facilitate aid supplies, Greek media reports.

More than 125,000 people believed to fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan has arrived on Greek shores so far this year, close to 12 times more than arrived in the first three months of 2015.

“I’ve never seen anything like it from a humanitarian standpoint," said Joshua Kyller, who oversees CRS’ emergency response in the Balkans.

“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," Kyller said. He said thousands of them sleep in empty warehouses because there is no shelter.

More than 59 million people were displaced in 2014. Most were from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea. While many have found refuge in countries in the Middle East, like Jordan, Lebanon, others seeking refuge 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.

“Many are unsure about what will happen to them," Kyller said, adding that as restrictions tighten on government permissions to remain temporarily in Greece, concerns are growing about what the aid groups will be able to provide legally in terms of humanitarian assistance to the refugees.

CRS, has been working with the refugee centers at Caritas Greece and Caritas Athens to provide basic services, which includes temporary shelter, food and clothing assistance to the thousands gathered there.

“There is an emergency developing within the emergency of this growing mass of people coming in," Kyller said. “Another emergency will happen when they technically become illegal. Will we be able to continue to provide food, water, shelter?"

The refugee center at Caritas Athens provides hot meals for some 600 refugees daily as well as winter clothing to ward off the cold.

“Assistance is often falling on humanitarian workers, NGOs and volunteers to take care of this caseload, and they do their best to manage these needs," Kyller added.

Turkey and the European Union reached an agreement on a proposal to tackle the massive influx of refugees into Europe, as the United Nations expressed concern about the deal on Tuesday.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said the leaders had made a “breakthrough” that sent “a very clear message that the days of irregular migration to Europe are over”.

Kyller said that even before the EU announcement, restrictions were being placed on various groups of refugees entering Greece. Syrians and Iraqis were given priority status over Afghans, Iranians or Pakistanis. The former were allowed to remain 180 days in Greece as opposed to 30 days for the rest.

Around 5,000 migrants were blocked in Athens after arriving at the city’s port of Piraeus from the Aegean islands. Greek authorities were scrambling to find places to accommodate them. Some migrants were trying to make the long trek to the northern border on foot.

Kyller said Greek authorities have “acted quickly to set up camps for the refugees, with some 12 sites in the North being built rapidly to try to accommodate the numbers who are unable to transit."

Children now make up over a third of the migrants risking the treacherous sea crossing between Greece and Turkey,” and even though the conditions they face in Greece are mostly inadequate, hundreds of refugee children managed to play the biggest game of “Duck, duck, goose" Kyller has ever witnessed. “There is some laughter and joy, even in the midst of chaos," he said.

Pope Francis speaking on behalf of refugees, has asked parishes in Europe to house refugees. “The Gospel calls us, asks us to be ‘neighbors’ of the smallest and most abandoned," he said.




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