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Greece's Idomeni refugee camp now empty, police say

Greece's Idomeni refugee camp now empty, police say
Greek minister says journalists were not allowed to cover operation to empty camp in order to 'protect' them from harm

By Vasiliki Mitsiniotou

ATHENS (AA) – The last remaining people at the informal refugee camp in Idomeni have been moved, Greek police said Thursday.

Police spokesman Petros Tanos told Anadolu Agency: "The camp is completely empty, the last 783 people boarded on buses today [Thursday] and there will be no more transfers for the day."

However, police forces maintained their presence in the area as more than 2,000 migrants and refugees still remain in locations nearby, including at a gas station 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) away and in Polikastro city.

"There are no definite dates about the operations around the area," Tanos said. "We believe migrants might attempt to return to Idomeni so police forces will remain at the camp to prevent that for as long as it takes," he added.

Since Tuesday, when the relocation operation started, more than 4,000 people had been moved, according to the police, to new facilities near Greece’s main northern city of Thessaloniki as well as to Petra in Olympos and Nea Kavala.

Idomeni has been the country’s largest informal refugee camp in northern Greece, which lies on the border with Macedonia. Stranded asylum seekers had been gathering there for months, reaching more than 13,000 people at its peak, including hundreds of children.

Their hope to cross the border and reach northern Europe gradually faded and many started leaving the area in March when Balkan countries applied border restrictions. In the meantime, Greek authorities tried to persuade asylum seekers to move to other facilities where living conditions were said to be better.

Deputy Minister of Citizen Protection Nikos Toskas from Idomeni told Alpha radio Thursday: “The area had become a favela, we were racing to reduce delinquency and keep dealers away from the spotlight.”

"The operation went very well, I would say," Toskas said, adding: "Yesterday, the railway line was cleared and this afternoon [Thursday] the first train will pass and normal traffic will be restored."

Greece was eager to reopen the railway line from Idomeni to neighboring Balkan states, which had been frequently blocked by asylum seekers protesting against the blocked border.

Besides the railway line block, the Greek government was heavily criticized by opposition parties and journalist unions for not allowing private media to cover the operation in Idomeni.

"We had to protect journalists and photojournalists because we did not know how things would evolve," Toskas gave the excuse on Alpha radio.

However, civil society organizations did not term the move a successful operation. Spokeswoman Vicky Markolefa from Doctors Without Borders told Anadolu Agency: “We saw tents where meals and things were left behind, people didn’t have enough time to prepare themselves.”

She also expressed her worries over conditions at the new refugee centers. “We are worried that migrants will not have access to food or healthcare if the new facilities aren’t completely ready,” she said.

“We are also worried about those who [were] left on their own to areas nearby trying to escape the relocation. They did not want to move because they did not know enough about the new conditions, whether the new camps will be open or closed ones or if their rights will be respected,” she added.

"In the last days, we dealt with a rise of psychological incidents, depression, panic attacks and a lot of stress. People would ask us about where they would go and if they should go there," she said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of Immigration Policy Giannis Mouzalas told the House Thursday: "After Idomeni, our next priority is Elliniko," referring to the former airport, which hosts 3,600 migrants in Athens.

Over a million migrants entered Greece since 2015. More than 50,000 people have remained in the country due to border restrictions applied by Balkan neighbors.

source: News Feed
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