A large-scale operation to evacuate a makeshift migrant and refugee camp in Idomeni on Greece’s northern border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that started in the early hours of Tuesday is proceeding smoothly, authorities said.
Police and other personnel so far managed to transfer over 800 people from the makeshift camp to organized facilities in the broader Thessaloniki area.
Speaking on Mega TV on Tuesday morning, the government’s spokesperson for the management of the refugee crisis, Giorgos Kyritsis, said that the aim is to have the camp, which at its peak numbered over 14,000 migrants and refugees living in camping tents, emptied by next week. He said that 2,500 have already transferred over the past week, before Tuesday morning’s ramped-up operation.
Authorities say that existing official facilities can house up to 6,500 people and more reception centers will be built to accommodate arrivals from Idomeni.
The police also said that the only nongovernmental organizations that will be permitted to keep up to five representatives at Idomeni to oversee the evacuation are Doctors Without Borders, Doctors of the World, the UNCHR, Praxis, Arsis, Intervolve, Samaritan’s Purse, Oikopolis, the Red Cross and Hot Food Eidomeni. Any members of other groups found at the camp will be remanded for questioning, police said, in response to reports that have suggested there are unofficial groups active within the camp who encourage the refugees to attempt illegal border crossings.
The camp, which sprung up at an informal pedestrian border crossing for refugees and migrants heading north to Europe, is currently home to an estimated 8,400 people – including hundreds of children – mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Greek authorities are also eager to reopen a railway line – the country’s main freight train line to the Balkans – that runs through the camp and has been blocked by protesting camp residents since March 20.