World

Idomeni camp empties as Greece relocates refugees

Refugees and other migrants were boarding buses heading to organized camps Monday on the second day of an operation to evacuate the sprawling Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border.

'Calm night' as thousands clear out of sprawling settlement

People who were sent out during a police operation to evacuate a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, stand in front of a camp in the village of Oreokastro, Greece. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Refugees and other migrants were boarding buses heading to organized camps Monday on the second day of an operation to evacuate the sprawling Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border.

Some of those staying in Idomeni had already boarded two buses waiting to take them to organized camps by the time police arrived at about 8:30 a.m. local time Wednesday.

More than 700 police were deployed but no violence was reported in the operation that began at dawn Tuesday in the camp of more than 8,000 people. Journalists have been banned from approaching the site.

Authorities said about 2,000 people were moved on the first day. The camp's evacuation is expected to last several days, with its residents being transported to newly built shelters set up by local authorities and the army.

"It was a calm night," said Vicky Markolefa, spokeswoman for the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders. "What we are seeing is that people are leaving voluntarily. There has been no problem."

The evacuation of the camp definitively dashed the dreams of thousands who had been camping there for months in the hope of eventually being able to cross over and continue toward Europe's more prosperous heartland.

A refugee boy on a wheelchair passes in front of riot policemen during the operation to clear the Idomeni refugee camp. (Yannis Kolesidis/Pool/Reuters)

But Balkan and European borders have been closed to refugees since March, in an attempt to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands who have crossed the continent and headed for wealthy European countries by making their way to Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast.

The border closures have stranded more than 54,000 people in Greece. At its peak in March, the camp at Idomeni housed more than 14,000 people, but numbers began declining as people began accepting authorities' offers of alternative places to stay.

During the evacuation's first day, some staying at Idomeni left on foot to avoid being transported to official camps.

"The police were everywhere and it was quite scary," said Emad Hawary, a 50-year-old Syrian who walked out of the camp with his wife and two daughters, seeking refuge at a nearby gas station. "We don't want to go to a shelter. It's just another field."

Hawary said his family was still determined to reach their son who is already in Germany.

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