At least 200 police officers, some in civilian clothes, on around 20 vehicles, arrived this morning at the Idomeni refugee camp and have begun clearing operations on the border between Greece and Macedonia. So far, the operation has been unfolding without use of force: it is taking place “slowly” and “calmly”, government sources have confirmed.
A helicopter supports the agents from above, monitoring the situation in the camp, which hosts over 8,400 people. Security forces invite the migrants to take one of the buses that will transfer them to nearby reception centers.
For more than a year, Idomeni has been one of the strategic crossroads on the Balkan route for the refugees who arrived to the Greek islands from Turkey. After having reached Piraeus, migrants moved on by bus to Thessaloniki and, from there, to Idomeni. From there, they crossed the border with Macedonia to continue their journey towards northern Europe. However, at the end of 2015, the Macedonian government has decided to close the border, thereby blocking the migrants who organized a camp while waiting to cross the border. The latest census of May 20 mentiones 9,007 people in Idomeni and 1,061 at the gas station in Polikastro, 20 km south along the motorway.
The government of Athens has been preparing this evacuation for some time now. Some officials have distributed flyers in different languages inside the camp. Those flyers advised migrants to move to equipped camps, on the promise of obtaining help with their asylum applications and better sanitary conditions there. At present, only 3,000 migrants – that is, one third of the people present in the camp – have accepted the offer.
The authorities hope that the clearing operations will unfold without incidents and with no need to use force. Nevertheless, the situation is tense inside the camp, because in recent days there have been clashes with the police. Some protesters pushed a railway wagon, trying to force the cordon created by the agents to block the tracks, the route many refugees have used to cross the border with Macedonia.