A Greek police officer plays with a migrant boy in the makeshift refugee camp at the northern Greek border point of Idomeni, on Wednesday.
Greek Health Minister Andreas Xanthos called Wednesday for the gradual evacuation of the Idomeni border camp as “the only solution” to the humanitarian crisis there as aid agencies began pulling out of detention centers around Greece, angered at the recent EU-Turkey deal which they say contravenes international law.
The UNHCR, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children said they were pulling out because they didn’t agree with the mass expulsion of refugees as stipulated in the recent deal between the EU and Turkey. Refugees and migrants have also expressed anger at the deal and staged protests at camps around the country on Wednesday.
Xanthos, who visited Idomeni on Wednesday, said that hygiene and living conditions were deplorable and urged aid agencies to return.
“The situation here is the definition of a humanitarian crisis,” he said, adding that the camp is not sustainable and as such the only solution is its gradual evacuation. Immigration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said that under these conditions he could not guarantee that a refugee child won’t die.
The suspension of work by NGOs is taking a further toll on the health of refugees.
“There are people who have been here for more than a month and are now exhausted and the medical needs are huge,” said Aspasia Kakari, an MSF representative who said the agency’s decision to temporarily pull out of the camp on Wednesday was also dictated by “safety concerns of the staff” after scuffles broke out next to the aid agency’s tent.
According to the latest estimates by the coordinating body on the refugee crisis, 12,000 refugees – roughly half of them children – are concentrated at Idomeni out of a total of 49,085 scattered throughout the country.
The total figure is lower than estimates published on Tuesday that put the number at 52,206. Concern over the shortfall was expressed by centrists To Potami, drawing an angry response from the head of the coordinating committee, Giorgos Kyritsis.
“These people are not rubbish to be swept under the rug. Greece is a democracy and doesn’t make people disappear,” he said, accusing the centrist party of succumbing to conspiracy theories.
“If Potami had systematically watched [refugee] flow charts that are publicized every day, it would not resort to conspiracy theories that create confusion,” Kyritsis said, adding that on many occasions the numbers fluctuate from day to day and this is linked to the way the refugee registration system operates.