NEWS

Greece starts evacuating Idomeni border camp as new arrivals slow

JOE SINCLAIR

TAGS: Migration

Greece has begun evacuating migrants from the main Idomeni camp on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) border, while the flow of refugees arriving on Aegean islands has slowed to a trickle, officials said Saturday.

Eight buses transported around 400 refugees from Idomeni to nearby refugee camps Friday, local police sources said.

A dozen more buses were waiting for migrants reluctant to leave the border, which has been shut down since earlier this month.

"People who have no hope or have no money, maybe they will go. But I have hope, maybe something better will happen tomorrow, maybe today," 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.

She said she would consider leaving the squalid Idomeni camp -- where people are sheltering even on railway tracks -- if the Greek government gives every migrant family "a simple shelter" to live in.

Those persuaded to board the first buses were mainly parents with children who can no longer tolerate the difficult conditions.

Janger Hassan, 29, from Iraqi Kurdistan, who has been at the Idomeni 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 AFP.

"We don't have a choice. We have to move," he said.

Desperation was evident in the camp. One tent bore the slogan: "Help us open the border."

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

Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman of the SOMP agency, which is coordinating Athens' response to the refugee crisis, said the operation to evacuate Idomeni will intensify 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.

Influx slowing

Meanwhile, the flow of refugees arriving in Greece is slowing.

Greece on Thursday said no migrants had arrived on its Aegean islands in the previous 24 hours, for the first time since the controversial EU-Turkey deal to halt the massive influx came into force at the weekend.

The agreement, under which all migrants landing on the Greek islands face being sent back to Turkey, went into effect last Sunday.

Despite the deal 1,662 people arrived on Monday, but this fell to 600 on Tuesday and 260 on Wednesday.

On Friday, the number of new arrivals was 161, down to 78 on Saturday, according to official numbers given by the Greek government, while the number of migrants in Greece was 50,236.

Greek authorities have used the relative calm to put in place logistics to send people back, including the deployment of 4,000 security personnel and asylum experts.

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

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

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council have all criticised the EU-Turkey deal on ethical grounds and scaled back some of their activities.

In 2015 more than a million migrants entered Europe, about half of them Syrians fleeing war, with Germany shouldering most of the burden.

Of these, around 850,000 people made the sea crossing to Greece from Turkey -- a route that also claimed more than 300 lives.

[AFP]

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