Ground reports from the Greek-Macedonian border at Idomeni indicate a worsening situation whose ripple effects will start to be felt in the coming days throughout Europe.
Although the current situation at the Macedonian border remains vague, activist and media contacts paint a picture of an increasing swell of refugees numbering in the thousands left to wait in squalid conditions in front of a sealed border.
Estimates put the number of refugees between 5000 and 6000, with hundreds of new arrivals per day.
According to yet unverified reports, buses were shuttling refugees from Athens, were they had arrived by boat from the Greek islands, further inland to Thessaloniki, where a transit camp has been set up. From there, most walk the 17 kilometers to the camp at Idomeni, which leads to Serbia after a walk of 170 kilometers through the mountainous Macedonian forest.
As of Monday, the Macedonian authorities had opened the border sporadically. On 27th february, it was opened shortly after 10pm, with a restricted intake of refugees, while Afghans were barred from entry.
Activists from SupportConvoi.org reported cooking on Sunday 6000 portions in the camp. It was not immediately clear which organization manages the camp, although UNHCR and MSF were reported to be active in the camp, as were numerous volunteers.
Concerns are being voiced that the camp is at full capacity. Winter blankets are running out. There is a general sense of astonishment at the lack of emergency help from any authority, whether national or European.
Panagiotis Agrafiotis, spokesperson for the Greek representation to the EU, said that the country was now running a contingency plan and creating emergency areas, without elaborating any further.
Axel Steier, deputy chairman from the SupportConvoi.org, said he could not understand how European policy could be so inhuman. For the moment, he said, they tried to provide some warmth to the refugees by cooking tea.
If the Greek authorities continue in the next days to shuttle more refugees to the border, where they get stranded absent any agreement with Macedonia, a huge human bottleneck will form. In the current situation, the national authorities are poorly equipped to handle a refugee situation of this magnitude.
There was no indication from the European Commission if the planned hotspots in Greece – facilities to register the refugees – were already active, nor were any details provided on the assistance Greece is receiving.
The EU’s External Action Service did not reply despite repeated requests for comment, nor did the European Commission.
In Athens meanwhile, the parks and streets are fast filling up with Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis who have not yet managed to reach the north. In the port, ferry’s continue to arrive with other refugees that made it to the Greek islands.
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