World

EU warns of looming refugee 'catastrophe' in Balkans as winter approaches

  • A man sleeps inside the baggage room of a bus as he waits to cross from the northern Greek village of Idomeni to southern Macedonia, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Well over half a million migrants have arrived in Greece as the vast majority don't want to stay, and head north through the Balkans to other, more prosperous European Union countries.  (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

    A man sleeps inside the baggage room of a bus as he waits to cross from the northern Greek village of Idomeni to southern Macedonia, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Well over half a million migrants have arrived in Greece as the vast majority don't want to stay, and head north through the Balkans to other, more prosperous European Union countries. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)  (The Associated Press)

  • French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, left, speaks with German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere during a round table meeting of EU justice and interior ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. EU justice and interior ministers met Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis of migrants and refugees. (AP Photo/Francois Walschaerts)

    French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, left, speaks with German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere during a round table meeting of EU justice and interior ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. EU justice and interior ministers met Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis of migrants and refugees. (AP Photo/Francois Walschaerts)  (The Associated Press)

  • French Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, right,  is hugged by Luxembourg Foreign and European Minister  Jean Asselborn during a round table meeting of EU justice and interior ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. EU justice and interior ministers met Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis of migrants and refugees. (AP Photo/Francois Walschaerts)

    French Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, right, is hugged by Luxembourg Foreign and European Minister Jean Asselborn during a round table meeting of EU justice and interior ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. EU justice and interior ministers met Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis of migrants and refugees. (AP Photo/Francois Walschaerts)  (The Associated Press)

The European Union warned on Monday of a looming humanitarian "catastrophe" with tens of thousands of people traveling through the Balkans to northern Europe as winter closes in.

More than 770,000 people have arrived in the EU by sea so far this year, overwhelming border authorities and reception facilities. Many have made the arduous land journey on foot through the Balkans in search of sanctuary or work in countries like Germany or Sweden.

The EU's 28 member nations have pledged to provide experts and funds to help manage the emergency, and to share refugees among them.

But the resources have been painfully slow in coming.

"The European Union must do everything to avoid a catastrophe as winter closes in," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said after chairing the latest in a long series of high-level talks on the challenge. "We cannot let people die from the cold in the Balkans."

To help manage the influx, EU border agency Frontex has called for 775 extra officers, but member states have so far only offered about half that amount. Slovenia asked for 400 more police officers within a week to help out. Almost three weeks later, less than half has been pledged.

A so-called relocation plan is meant to share 160,000 refugees arriving in Greece and Italy, but barely more than 100 people have been moved so far.

"We need to move from the dozens to the hundreds," the EU's top migration official, Dmitris Avramopoulos, told reporters after the meeting in Brussels.

Asselborn said the ministers had discussed setting up "processing centers" in the Balkans, where people could be registered and given information as they travel further north. But they would also have to accept to have their fingerprints taken, which some migrants are refusing to do.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that his country had committed to relocate 30,000 refugees "in coming weeks and months."

He also urged his EU partners to live up to their pledges and to enforce the rules in place on returning people who don't qualify for asylum back to their home countries.

"Solidarity can't work if we are not determined enough to implement the measures that we have already agreed," he said.