Greece begins emptying refugee border camp

Greece starts clearing Idomeni border camp as new refugee arrivals slow down dramatically

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

Refugees at a transit camp in Gevgelija, Macedonia, after entering the country by crossing the border with Greece, September 24, 2015.

Greece said on Saturday it has begun clearing the main refugee camp on its Macedonia border, as the previously huge flow of refugees into the country has ended following an EU-Turkey deal.

Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman of the SOMP agency which is coordinating Athens' response to the refugee crisis, said the operation to evacuate Idomeni will be in full spate from Monday.

"More than 2,000 places can be found immediately for the refugees that are at the Idomeni camp and from Monday on this number can double," Kyritsis added, pledging to create 30,000 more places in the next three weeks in new shelters.

On Friday, eight buses transported around 400 refugees from Idomeni camp, while a dozen more buses were waiting to leave the border that was shut down earlier this month.

Women board a bus as they leave the makeshift camp on the Greek-Macedonian border near the Greek village of Idomeni on March 26, 2016

Those persuaded to board the first buses were mainly parents with children.

Janger Hassan, 29, from the Kurdish region of Iraq who has been at the border camp for a month with his wife and two young children, thinks he will probably leave.

"There's nothing to do here. The children are getting sick. It's a bad situation the last two days it's windy, sometimes it's raining here," he told Agence France Presse.

But some insist on staying in Idomeni.

"People who have no hope or have no money, maybe they will go," said 40-year-old Fatema Ahmed from Iraq, who has a 13-year-old son in Germany and three daughters with her in the camp.

"But I have hope, maybe something better will happen tomorrow, maybe today," she said, adding that she would consider leaving Idomeni if Greece gives them decent shelter at a better place.

A total of 11,603 people remained at the border camp on Saturday, according to the latest official count.

A girl holds a placard reading "human rights declaration: every human being has the right to live and to be free 'except Syrians' " during a protest at the makeshift camp on the Greek-Macedonian border near the Greek village of Idomeni on March 26, 2016.

Meanwhile, the huge tide of refugees flooding in Greece is slowing dramatically after the EU-Turkey deal came into effect on Sunday. On Saturday, there were only 78 arrivals. Before the deal the numbers arriving each day had numbered in the thousands.

All new arrivals in Greece are being taken to registration centers set up on five Aegean islands.

Those seeking asylum will stay there while their applications are considered by Greek and European officials.

A refugee holds a placard reading "our children are drowning in the mud, take off your humanit" at a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni on March 26, 2016.

In 2015 more than a million refugees, mainly Syrians entered Europe. Of these, around 850,000 people made the sea crossing to Greece from Turkey.

Under the deal between Turkey and the European Union, refugees arriving Greece after March 20 will be deported to Turkey unless their asylum applications are approved.

The deal also outlines that a limited number of around 72,000 out of 3 million Syrian refugees will be allowed in Turkey, while the visa-liberalisation process for Turkish citizens travelling to Europe will be accelerated and refugee aid will be doubled to 6.8 billion euros. The deal could be abandoned if the number of refugees into Europe exceeds the number specified in the agreement.

Turkey has spent nearly $10 billion of its own resources on the refugees, the number of whom in the country has recently exceeded 2.7 million-mark.