Police on Wednesday rounded up some 2,300 migrants from a makeshift camp near the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and put them on buses to Athens, where they are to be put up in temporary reception facilities, including two former Olympic venues.
The police operation, which Greek authorities heralded last week, was carried out relatively smoothly following weeks of tensions along the border.
A group of 30 migrants who initially resisted efforts by police to remove them from the camp on Wednesday morning were briefly detained before being put on a bus to the capital.
A total of 45 buses were used to transfer the migrants from a makeshift camp in Idomeni and the surrounding area to the capital, according to a police statement which said most the migrants are from Pakistan, Somalia, Morocco, Algeria and Bangladesh.
The migrants are to be put up in former Olympic venues in Elliniko and Galatsi and in a temporary reception facility for immigrants that opened in Elaionas over the summer.
Police officers on Wednesday were stopping buses heading toward Idomeni with more migrants from the Aegean islands and conducting checks.
All migrants that are not from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria – the nationalities that FYROM border guards are allowing to pass – were being taken off the buses and sent to Athens, the official said.
Complicating matters, FYROM police were said to have started building a second fence on the Balkan country’s frontier with Greece in a bid to keep out migrants trying to slip through.
The crackdown on the Greek-FYROM border is expected to lead to a buildup of migrants in Greece and encourage traffickers to resort to new routes to Europe.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) indicated on Wednesday that an alternative route traffickers are likely to favor could be via Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia.
The relocation of the migrants from the FYROM border on Wednesday also freed up rail services between the two countries that had been suspended for three weeks, resulting in estimated losses of some 1.5 million euros for Trainose, the company that manages Greece’s railway system.
The presence of protesting migrants at the border crossing has caused serious problems for Greek exporters and multinational firms that ship their goods to Piraeus and then use rail links to transport them to Central Europe.
Trainose’s chairman Athanasios Ziliaskopoulos resigned on Tuesday, expressing serious concerns about contracts the firm had signed with multinationals.
Train services resumed on Wednesday. One of the trains is due to arrive in Piraeus today to collect goods from Cosco destined for Central Europe.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Hellenic Coast Guard was called out after a rickety wooden boat sank off the small island of Farmakonisi.
Officers recovered the bodies of 12 migrants, including six children, and was seeking another 12 people believed to be missing until nightfall. Another 23 people were rescued from the wreck.
The incident came just a few hours after six children drowned off the Turkish coastal resort of Cesme.