Monday 5 December 2016

Greece removes hundreds of migrants from border

Costas Kantouris

Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30

A toddler sleeps while refugees from Afghanistan wait to board a bus as Greek police move them from the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni
A toddler sleeps while refugees from Afghanistan wait to board a bus as Greek police move them from the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni

Faced with yet another build-up of migrants caused by border restrictions in central Europe, police in Greece yesterday removed hundreds of Afghans from its border with Macedonia onto Athens-bound buses, after their route into Europe was blocked.

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Further north, police in the French port of Calais were preparing to evict people seeking to get to Britain from the shanty town known as the 'Jungle' that has developed into another flashpoint.

The seemingly arbitrary decision by some Balkan countries to close their borders to Afghans attempting to make their way across Europe to seek asylum has left thousands of people stranded in Greece, as more continue to arrive on Greek islands from the nearby Turkish shore.

Twenty-year-old Afghan Mirwais Amin said he was separated from relatives after being stopped from reaching the border and camping out at a nearby site.

"Macedonia isn't letting migrants through. I can't understand why," he said. "I can't get to the (border) camp, and members of my family are there. It's cold here and we have no food."

In Calais, authorities argue the sprawling 'Jungle' site presents sanitary risks and want to shut it down. Charity groups went to court to seek a last-minute delay of the evacuation. The court had been expected to rule yesterday but announced that it would make no decision before today at the earliest.

Officials estimate 800 to 1,000 people currently live on the site, but humanitarian groups contend the figure is more than 3,000.

Regional administration head Fabienne Buccio said on Europe-1 radio yesterday the expulsion order doesn't mean that authorities will use force. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve insisted the evacuation would be "progressive".

Maya Konforti of aid group L'Auberge des Migrants said volunteers would stand by the migrants if authorities try to force them out.

The waves of refugees heading to Europe have increased in pace even compared with last year's massive influx, sorely testing EU unity. Greece, with its extensive coastline and its islands' proximity to Turkey, is by far the most favoured route.

The International Organisation for Migration said yesterday that more than 102,500 people crossed into Greece between January 1 and Monday, and about 7,500 into Italy.

Such figures weren't reached last year until June. More than one million people crossed into Europe in 2015, more than 80pc of them reaching Greek islands from Turkey.

Despite initial welcoming overtures from some more prosperous European countries such as Germany, the sheer size of the flow has made nations balk at the prospect of having to integrate so many new arrivals.

Several countries have been distinctly hostile to the idea, and those along the Balkan route have successively closed their borders to certain nationalities. The latest are Afghans, who were not being allowed to cross Greece's border with Macedonia this week, leading to protests on the border and to the danger of thousands being stranded in the financially troubled country.

Yesterday, Greece slammed Austria for drastically restricting migrant crossings and for inviting officials from western Balkan countries to discuss the migration issue in Vienna, but excluding Greece.

The foreign ministry described the meeting as a "unilateral move which is not at all friendly toward our country".

Austria's cap on the number of people it will admit each day prompted Macedonia last weekend to stop Afghan migrants from crossing, and to slow the rate at which asylum-seekers from Syria and Iraq were allowed across.

Irish Independent

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