Greek riot police removed asylum-seekers from the Idomeni refugee camp, a site of much despair and chaos since Balkan nations began filtering refugees by nationality. Diego Cupolo reports from Idomeni, Greece.
After nearly three weeks of protests and routine riots, 2,000 asylum-seekers were evicted from an encampment on the Greek-Macedonian border and sent back to Athens. Greek riot police surrounded Idomeni refugee camp around 3 a.m. Wednesday morning and detained four journalists at the site, before proceeding to load all inhabitants onto buses bound for refugee camps in the nation's capital.
The camp was empty by 4 p.m., according to a medic from the Red Cross, and neither media nor non-emergency personnel were allowed to re-enter the area until 6 p.m that evening. Few witnesses were present during the eviction process, but an MSF logistician said doctors at the camp reported no injuries.
“I didn't see it personally, but apparently the eviction was without violence.,” said the logistician who asked to remain anonymous. “Perhaps the only force they used was in their numbers. There were so many police officers here that no one would think of resisting. Their presence was enough.”
Asylum-seekers began getting stuck in Idomeni after several Balkan states implemented tighter border controls, which allowed only refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to pass through borders on their way to northern Europe. The result left many Iranians, Pakistanis and people from African nations stranded in cold temperatures since the rule was introduced on Nov. 18.
Syrian refugee Fadih Yasin and his daughters, one of which lost her hearing from a bomb blast, waited for 10 hours before being taken to Idomeni
Busloads taken away
Lines of buses departed Idomeni throughout the day as asylum-seekers were relocated to former Olympic stadiums-turned-refugee camps in Athens. For some of the NGO workers at the border, the sight of the barren camp was unsettling after so many days of managing the overcrowded facilities.
“It's very strange to walk into a tent and find no one inside,” said Christian Wilbers, child protection manager for Save the Children. “I keep expecting it to be full of people, like it has been for weeks, but suddenly it's not.”
While Idomeni was being emptied, 10 buses full of asylum-seekers heading north from Athens were held at a gas station 20 km south of the border. About 300-400 people remained at the station throughout the day, some of them having arrived there at 6 a.m.
Refugees waited at a gas station south of the Macedonian border as police cleared the Idomeni refugee camp
Without knowledge of where they were, where they were going, or why they were stopped at the station for the entire day, many became frustrated.
“Why do they let people leave Athens if they can't pass the border?” asked Mohammed Bashir, an electrical engineering student from Somalia. “I know the answer is politics, but we also have to think about humanity in these situations. They have to differentiate between the two because they are leaving people out in the cold and people are dying and no one is taking responsibility.”
The buses eventually made their way to the border, but only after the camp was completely cleared of inhabitants. According to NGO workers at Idomeni, asylum-seekers would no longer stay in Idomeni. Instead, the site will serve only as a transit point for refugees who would sleep in the more established military camps on the Macedonian side of the border.