Greece vows to fix Idomeni camp overflow

2016-03-12 21:32
Migrants and refugees rest in a square in central Athens. (Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP)

Migrants and refugees rest in a square in central Athens. (Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP)

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Idomeni - Greece aims to deal swiftly with the overflow at the Idomeni migrant camp on the Macedonian border where some 12 000 people are waiting to cross in miserable conditions, a minister said on Saturday.

Some 200 migrants protested against conditions at the camp Saturday, chanting "open the border" and sitting on a cross-border railway line, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

And a Syrian refugee began a hunger strike in response to the situation.

"I hope the situation at Idomeni is resolved within a week without recourse to force," Dimitris Vitsas, the minister charged with co-ordinating the refugee flow, told Mega TV.

Conditions in the camp have worsened since four Balkan countries shut their borders this week, closing off the main route to wealthy northern Europe trodden by hundreds of thousands of migrants in the last year.

The measures have left thousands - including many children - forced to camp out in increasing squalor amid Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II.


Nazim Serhan, a 44-year-old Syrian, began a hunger strike on Saturday to highlight migrants' plight at the border.

Serhan, who travelled to Europe along with his three children in the hope of joining his wife in Germany who is battling cancer, told journalists: "I want to see her, just for one day."

Vitsas said Athens would try "to convince" refugees to accept a transfer to other reception centres across the country.

He added that 400 had done just that on Friday, moving to centres in northern Greece.

Figures released by Greek authorities on Saturday estimated some 12 000 people remained at Idomeni but thousands more are camped out in fields nearby waiting in vain for the border to reopen.

Greece is currently hosting more than 42 000 migrants and refugees with around 7 700 on islands in the Aegean Sea. Many more, most of them fleeing the Syrian conflict, are still undertaking perilous voyages to reach the islands from Turkey.

According to Vitsas, "50 000 spots" will be available in reception centres across Greece "by the end of next week", some 10 000 more than currently.

The closing of borders by neighbouring states has posed a huge headache to the government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

This week, EU and Turkish leaders agreed a controversial plan that would see migrants sent back from Greece to Turkey, in exchange for the EU resettling Syrian refugees from Turkish camps in a "one for one" swap.

The proposal quickly came under fire, with the UN's top officials on refugees and human rights questioning whether expelling migrants en masse from Greece to Turkey would be legal.

The plan is due to be finalised at a EU summit on March 17.

Read more on:    greece  |  migrants

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