By Vasiliki Mitsiniotou
ATHENS (AA) – Greek police said on Wednesday that more than 2,000 refugees have left Idomeni camp in the north of the country since a relocation operation began yesterday.
Police spokesman Petros Tanos told Anadolu Agency the operation was “continuing normally and calmly, like yesterday”.
“Today [Wednesday] people living in tents on the railway lines and around that area will be relocated,” he added.
Police said 48 buses carrying migrants have left the camp so far, heading to new facilities near Greece’s main northern city of Thessaloniki plus Petra in Olympos and Nea Kavala.
Giorgos Kyritsis, government refugee spokesman, said Monday that police would not use force and that the operation was expected to last about 10 days.
Security forces said more than 10 police units from the capital Athens and nearby cities, along with riot police and a helicopter took part in the operation.
State-run ERT television and the ANA-MPA news agency, the only media organizations allowed to approach the area, reported migrants queuing up to board buses and being driven away on Tuesday.
The opposition party New Democracy attacked the government’s decision to ban private media from covering the operation.
New Democracy spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said in a statement on Tuesday: “This is a censorship operation that harms the freedom of the press and exposes the country internationally. When there is rule of law, the government should have nothing to fear from free public information.”
The Greek Photojournalists’ Union referred to the ban as a "flagrant violation of the freedom and pluralism of the press," in a statement the same day.
Idomeni is the country’s largest informal refugee camp in northern Greece, on the border with Macedonia. Stranded migrants were gathering for months, reaching more than 13,000 people at its peak, including hundreds of children, coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Their hope to cross the border and reach northern Europe gradually faded and many started leaving the area from March when Balkan countries applied border restrictions. In the meantime, the Greek authorities tried to persuade migrants to move to other facilities where living conditions were said to be better.
Greece is also eager to reopen the railway line from Idomeni to neighboring Balkan states; it has been frequently blocked by migrants protesting against the blocked border.
Over a million migrants have entered Greece since 2015 in the greatest immigration wave to hit Europe since World War II. More than 50,000 people have remained in the country due to border restrictions applied by the Balkan neighbors.