Thousands moved off illegal site in Greece
Greek authorities sent hundreds of police into the country’s largest informal refugee camp yesterday to support the gradual evacuation of the Idomeni site on the Macedonian border.
The government has pledged that police will not use force, and says the operation is expected to last about a week to 10 days. Journalists were blocked from covering inside the camp.
By about midday 23 buses carrying a total 1,110 people had left Idomeni, heading to new refugee camps in northern Greece, police said, while earth-moving machinery was used to clear abandoned tents. No violence was reported.
Vicky Markolefa, a representative of the Doctors Without Borders charity, said the operation was proceeding “very smoothly” and without incident. “We hope it will continue like that,” she said.
The camp, which sprang up at an informal pedestrian border crossing for refugees and migrants heading north to wealthier European nations, was home to an estimated 8,400 people - including hundreds of children - mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
At its peak, when Macedonia shut its border in March, the camp housed more than 14,000, but numbers have declined as people began accepting authorities’ offers of alternative places to stay.
In Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said the evacuation appeared to be taking place “calmly,” and the UN refugee agency was sending more staffers to Idomeni.
“As long as the movement of people from Idomeni is... voluntary in nature (and) that we’re not seeing use of force, then we don’t have particular concerns about that,” he said. “It often does help move people into more organised sites, when they’re willing to move to those places.”
MOVING ON: Refugees are loaded on to a bus