Two former ministers in Greece’s left-wing government have led a demonstration against the European Union, briefly occupying the EU Commission building in central Athens to protest Europe’s planned migration agreement with Turkey as well as the country’s international bailout.
About 50 protesters staged the occupation, led by the former ministers of energy and social security, Panagiotis Lafazanis and Dimitris Stratoulis. They accused the government of backing the EU plans, which they said would weaken international protection for refugees and leave thousands more migrants stranded in Greece.
The two ex-ministers were part of a breakup last year of the governing left-wing Syriza party, a split that triggered early general elections last September.
Greece’s refugee crisis has sharply worsened in recent weeks after Austria and several Balkan countries began imposing border restrictions and closures.
The government said Wednesday that nearly 36,000 refugees and migrants are now stranded in the country.
Prime Minister Miro Cerar says Slovenia has fully shut its border with Croatia for migrants without valid EU visas and will no longer accept organized trains carrying refugees.
Cerar said Wednesday the effective closure of the Western Balkans route for migrants was made after Monday’s EU summit which “agreed to stop irregular migration” toward central Europe.
About 478,000 refugees and migrants have passed through Slovenia, mostly in trains, since mid-October when the Balkan migrant route switched from Hungary after it built a razor wire fence to stop the flow.
Slovenian police say no migrants have entered the county during the last four days. Thousands remain stranded on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia.
Hungary says is it extending a state of emergency to the whole country in response to the migrant crisis, including additional police and military patrols to stop migrants from entering.
Interior Minister Sandor Pinter says the measures announced Wednesday are needed because of uncertainty about where the people stranded across the Balkans will try to go after several countries announced only people with valid EU visas will be allowed through.
Hungary declared a state of emergency last year in several counties directly affected by the migrant flow and built fences on its borders with Serbia and Croatia which have greatly reduced the number of migrants entering the country in their efforts to reach Germany and other destinations in Western Europe.
Pinter said that a fence on the Romanian border is not necessary for now as Romania has pledged to prevent any migrants from reaching Hungary from there.
On Tuesday, police caught 127 migrants who entered Hungary, mostly through the fence with Serbia.
A Greek official says there are early indications that NATO patrols in the eastern Aegean Sea are reducing the number of migrants traveling from Turkey to nearby Greek islands.
Dimitris Vitsas, the deputy defense minister, said expanded NATO patrols that started this week have put pressure on smugglers who have continued to bring migrants and refugees to Greek islands at an average of roughly 2,000 per day.
Vitsas told a state-run radio station: “Yesterday, we had about 700 people. So there is a
strong eye on the situation.”
Turkey is currently in negotiations with the European Union for a broad agreement aimed at limiting the number of migrants crossing into Europe.
Turkey and Greece are backing a so-called re-admission agreement that would allow Greece to send back migrants who arrived illegally.
Still more refugees are arriving at the overflowing Idomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonian border despite the border being shut following a European Union-Turkey summit and a decision by countries further up the Balkan route to only allow through people with valid EU visas.
Heavy rain Wednesday increased the misery of up to 14,000 people in the camp, which long ago surpassed capacity, leaving thousands to pitch small tents donated by aid groups in surrounding fields and along railway tracks.
Yet despite the border closure and increasingly poor conditions, dozens of new arrivals were walking the more than 15 kilometer (10 miles) from a nearby petrol station, men, women and children using flimsy colored ponchos to ward off the worst of the rain and humidity to reach Europe’s largest refugee bottleneck.
A senior European parliamentarian who is a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party says Turkey should not become a member of the European Union.
European People’s Party chief Manfred Weber said Wednesday that the center-right bloc “is very skeptical about the idea of membership for Turkey. We actually don’t think that’s positive for either side.”
Turkey has demanded fast-track EU membership talks, an easing of visa rules for Turkish citizens and some 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) to help Europe manage its refugee emergency.
The EPP is the biggest group in the parliament.
Echoing Merkel’s position from the past that a “privileged partnership” would be better, Weber said “if Turkey wants a partnership with us then it’s important to make sure that Turkey doesn’t turn away from Europe.”