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Greece moves migrants out of old airport

June 2, 2017

Greek police have launched an operation to relocate hundreds of migrants from an improvised camp in an old Athens airport. The area, which also includes Olympic venues, is set for a large redevelopment project.

Griechenland Flüchtlingslager Hellinikon
Image: Getty Images/AFP/E. Elis

Greek authorities blocked off the access to the airport site on Friday as some 500 migrants were due to be bused to other camps in Greece. A group of 350 refugees, mostly families, would leave for Thebes some 70 kilometers (45 miles) northwest of Athens. The remaining adults would first be taken to police headquarters for identity checks and later move on to Derveni, 140 kilometers west of the capital.

UN's refugee organization UNHCR was assisting with the move.

"The operation is underway without incident as [the migrants] had been informed beforehand," police spokesman Theodoros Chronopoulos told the AFP news agency.

The government has repeatedly promised to empty the Hellenikon site, which held several thousand people at its peak. The authorities started sending migrants there in 2015 as a temporary measure when Balkan countries decided to close their borders and block the newcomers from entering richer EU states to the north and west.

'Unfit' for migrants

Hundreds of refugees were forced to sleep in tents in old terminals last summer. In February, a group of migrants started a hunger strike over the lack of hot water and suitable food. Human rights activists also slammed the improvised camp as unfit for long-term accommodation.

The Hellenikon was closed down in 2001, and the government used the surrounding area to build sports venues for the 2004 Olympics. The complex hosted various events during the competition, including baseball, fencing, hockey and kayaking.

A private investor is now due to launch a 7 billion euro ($7.9 billion) redevelopment project, which would include building hotels, parks and malls at the seaside property.

Some 62,000 migrants are currently stranded in Greece, which was the main entry point for migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.

dj/sms (AP, dpa, AFP)

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