Tuesday 21 November 2017

Hundreds of refugees deported back to flooded camps in Greece

A Syrian refugee covers himself with a blanket at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants at the Greek-Macedonian border
A Syrian refugee covers himself with a blanket at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants at the Greek-Macedonian border

Bushra Shakhshir in Idomeni

Macedonia has sent back hundreds of refugees to Greece, a day after they bypassed a border fence to head further north into Europe - a move Greece blamed on "criminal misinformation" possibly spread by volunteers working with them.

About 1,500 people, frustrated at being stuck for weeks in a waterlogged tent city outside the closed crossing of Idomeni, pushed their way into Macedonia on Monday through an unguarded section of the border. They walked about 5km and crossed a swollen stream near the Greek village of Hamilo.

A Macedonian official said 700 migrants who had been detained overnight were deported to Greece through the same location they entered. The official also said about 50 journalists and volunteers detained with the migrants were released after paying fines of €250 for illegally entering Macedonia.

Greek police said groups of migrants were seen coming back to Greece from unguarded sections of the border east and west of Idomeni - although Greece says it received no official notification or repatriation request from Macedonia.

About 200 people who had camped overnight near Hamilo went back to Idomeni yesterday, while Macedonian police guarded the area.

Despite repeated Greek appeals for them to move to available organised shelters, about 14,000 people are stuck in the Idomeni tent city in swampy conditions after days of heavy rain.

"As long as (refugees) still believe that there is a chance of getting through (to Macedonia), this will continue," immigration minister Ioannis Mouzalas said. "There is no way the border will open."

For months, hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa flowed through Idomeni, on their way to seek asylum in central Europe. But a tightening in border controls that started in Austria and extended down the Balkan migration route ended in a total border closure last week. Now, about 44,000 people are stranded in Greece.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras blamed Monday's mass move to circumvent the border fence on misleading leaflets distributed at Idomeni, which encouraged the refugees to make a concerted push north.

"This is criminal behaviour towards people who face great hardship," Mr Tsipras said.

Irish Independent

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