As It Happens

Border closures within the EU strand refugees in Greece

The gradual closing of European borders is leading to unexpected bottlenecks. A reporter in Greece describes the worries of refugees at a camp near the Macedonian border.
Migrants make their way to reach the Macedonia border, near the northern Greek village of Idomeni. (Giannis Papanikos/AP)

Thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan and Syria have arrived in Greece only to be trapped there as Europe's borders close around them.

Greek freelance journalist Mariana Karakoulaki is in a refugee camp in Idomeni, Greece. She says a lack of communication from Greek authorities is leading to some 4,000 refugees living there, "people are desperate, they are asking questions, they have no information … and they don't know when they're going to be allowed to cross the border."

A woman cries as dozens of Afghan refugees wait to be allowed by the Greek police to reach the border with Macedonia, near the northern Greek village of Idomeni. (Giannis Papanikos/AP)

Karakoulaki has heard reports that only 150 people are being allowed to cross the border from Greece per day. "The border has been closed since 12:00 (a.m.), maybe earlier." 

Idomeni already has a satellite camp which used to be a gas station parking lot. And conditions are bleak.

"There are several tents that can hold up to 1,000 people … but those are full. There are also camping tents and some people have no place to sleep so they're just taking sleeping bags and sleeping out in the cold," Karakoulaki says.

Refugees stand in line to receive food distributed by a NGO at a refugee camp at the Greek-Macedonian border near the northern Greek village of Idomeni. (Petros Giannakouris/AP)

There are currently 12,000 migrants stranded in Greece with more arriving daily. Refugees are walking to neighbouring borders, some more than 70 kilometres away, only to find them closed.

"People are turned back from Serbia, and then they're turned back from Macedonia and Macedonia turns them back into Greece," Karakoulaki says.

The asylum seekers are trapped as European leaders continue to fight over who will take responsibility for the flood of newcomers.

A Syrian child looks out from a tent during rainfall, as refugees wait to be allowed to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near the northern Greek village of Idomeni. (Petros Giannakouris/AP)

On Thursday, Greece recalled its ambassador to Austria, Chryssoula Aliferi, who spearheaded the move to cut off the Balkan route at the Greek border. And Greece's prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said, "We will not accept turning the country into a warehouse of souls."

The border closures were announced as a Serbian and Balkan decision but Karakoulaki is skeptical, "it was an EU decision, if you want my opinion, because they don't want any more people."


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