Greek riot police begin evacuation of huge refugee camp on border
Greek authorities began an operation at dawn yesterday to empty the country's largest informal refugee camp of Idomeni on the border with Macedonia, blocking access to the area and sending in more than 400 riot police.
Witnesses saw several bus-loads of migrants leaving the makeshift camp of Idomeni yesterday morning, with about another dozen buses lined up. It appeared to be mainly families who were on the move.
Greek authorities said they planned to move individuals gradually to state-supervised facilities further south in an operation expected to last several days.
"The evacuation is progressing without any problem," said Giorgos Kyritsis, a government spokesman for the migrant crisis.
A witness on the Macedonian side of the border said there was a heavy police presence in the area but no problems were reported as people with young children packed up huge bags with their belongings.
"Those who pack their belongings will leave because we want this issue over with. Ideally by the end of the week. We haven't put a strict deadline on it, but more or less that is what we estimate," Mr Kyritsis said.
Mr Kyritsis said the operation was expected to last a week to 10 days.
The camp, which sprang up at an informal pedestrian border crossing for refugees and migrants heading north to Europe, is home to an estimated 8,400 people. Greek police and government authorities have said the residents will be moved gradually to newly-completed, organised camps.
More than 54,000 refugees and migrants have been trapped in financially struggling Greece since Balkan and European countries shut their land borders to a massive flow of people escaping war and poverty at home. The vast majority are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In March, the European Union reached an agreement with Turkey meant to stem the flow and reduce the number of people undertaking the short but perilous sea crossing to Greece. Many have died after their overcrowded, unseaworthy boats sank.