After mud and misery, migrants face new hardship

2016-05-26 21:07
A child looks out if a window during a police operation to clear a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants near Idomeni, Greece. (Yannis Kolesidis, AFP)

A child looks out if a window during a police operation to clear a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants near Idomeni, Greece. (Yannis Kolesidis, AFP)

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Thessaloniki - Hours after leaving the mud and misery of the Greek border camp of Idomeni, Juan from Syria is dismayed to find his new home - a warehouse turned into a shelter - is hardly an improvement.

"The food is not enough, there are no showers and no doctor," the 32-year-old refugee from war-torn Aleppo tells AFP outside the newly-opened makeshift camp of Derveni, about 10km north of Greece's second city Thessaloniki.

He is one of nearly 4 000 migrants removed by Greek police from the border tent city of Idomeni this week after months of sleeping in a damp field with minimal access to sanitation and barely adequate food provision.

Aid agencies initially welcomed the operation that began on Tuesday to clear the camp - which at the time numbered some 8 400 people - after complaints from local authorities over petty crime and the fear of infectious diseases.

But on Wednesday, the Save the Children charity was already reporting major problems at the new sites.

"When families arrived in the new camps yesterday, many with babies and young children, they were faced with deplorable conditions," the group's mission leader Amy Frost said in a statement, describing conditions as "inhumane".

"There was very little food and water and just four incredibly dirty toilets for almost 200 people," she added in reference to one site.

On Thursday, the International Rescue Committee aid group said essential services remained "inadequate" and many people were leaving.

"Destination sites are currently not ready," Rowan Cody, IRC's field co-ordinator for northern Greece, said in a statement.

"All sites must meet humanitarian standards. This is not just about survival - sites must provide for refugees' basic needs, as well as services to help people in dire need of protection," he said.

More than half the migrants at Idomeni refused to join the three-day police evacuation of Idomeni, moving away to pitch their tents outside gas stations and hotels in the surrounding area instead.

"This may be a little better than Idomeni, but it's no solution," says 29-year-old Nidal, also from Aleppo.

"I feel like a prisoner here," he says in reference to the Derveni camp.

"We are in the middle of nowhere," says Juan.

"We have no internet connection and no information on what will happen to us. I have two children aged eight and 11. Will they go to school?" he wonders.

Simmering tensions 

At another warehouse turned into a camp in Kalohori, 7km west of Thessaloniki, a row was narrowly averted on Thursday after a middle-aged Syrian demanded more food, an AFP reporter said.

"You've already had your share," the army officer overseeing the canteen replied, upon which the Syrian flicked his cigarette in the man's face.

Both men were restrained before the incident could escalate.

"Things will improve in time ... work to improve the sites is ongoing," a government source in Athens told AFP.

"Industrial facilities were chosen as accommodation this time as the migrants themselves wanted to be near the city," the official added.

But for now, in the migrants' eyes, things look grim, their time in muddy camps a far cry from the new lives they had hoped to build in countries like Germany or Sweden.

The Derveni building was previously used to hold auctions. The Kalohori warehouse used to store supermarket supplies.

Idomeni was originally opened by aid groups last year to accommodate just 2 500 people during what was at the time a short procedure to cross the border.

But the camp exploded in size to over 12 000 people after Balkan states began closing their borders in February to stem the human tide.

"My dream is not to live in a tent, whether this is in a building or a field," 22-year-old Samir said.

Read more on:    greece  |  migrants

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