*ADDS MORE DETAILS
By Vasiliki Mitsiniotou
ATHENS (AA) - The relocation of refugees from the informal refugee camp of Idomeni in northern Greece to accommodation centers in northern Greece started Tuesday at dawn.
So far, 37 buses with more than 1,780 migrants have left the camp heading to new refugee camps near Greece’s main northern city of Thessalonica, Petra in Olympos, and Nea Kavala, Greek police said.
Giorgos Kyritsis, government spokesman for the refugee crisis, said Monday that police would not use force and that the operation was expected to last about 10 days.
More than 10 police units from Athens and nearby cities, along with riot police and a helicopter, are participating in the operation, police said.
Journalists were stopped at a police roadblock a few kilometers away and not allowed to enter the camp, reported daily Kathimerini.
Head opposition party New Democracy slammed the government’s decision to ban all journalists except for state-run ERT television and the ANA-MPA news agency from covering the evacuation on Tuesday.
“A 6 kilometer cutoff is being applied in Idomeni,” Giorgos Koumoutsakos, spokesman for New Democracy, said in a statement.
“This is a censorship operation that harms freedom of the press and exposes the country internationally. When there is the rule of law, the government should have nothing to fear from free public information,” he added.
Idomeni is the country’s largest informal refugee camp in northern Greece, on the border with Macedonia. Stranded migrants have been piling up for months, reaching more than 13,000 people at its peak, including hundreds of children, mostly coming from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Their hopes of crossing the border and reaching northern Europe gradually faded and they started leaving the area in March when Balkan countries applied border restrictions. Greek authorities also tried to persuade them to move to other facilities where living conditions were said to be better.
Greek authorities are also eager to reopen the railway line from Idomeni to the Balkans that has been frequently blocked by migrants protesting against the shut borders.
So far no violence was reported. The operation is expected to continue throughout the day, and up to five more buses will leave the area by the end of the day, according to police.
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 Greece’s Balkan neighbors.