The Greek government has evacuated the Idomeni camp, a dirty and makeshift settlement of migrants and refugees along the Macedonia border, but the tenacity of those who seek a Balkan path to Europe remains the same. The hope of crossing the closed border has only pushed them a few kilometers back, in the Kilkis region near the urban center of Polikastro, where at least 2,500 people have found shelter in spontaneous camps, in addition to the other three known ones, Hotel Hara, BP and Eko Station.
These are the holdouts after the government transferred 6,000 people last week from Idomeni to new camps in the industrial area around Thessaloniki. These refugees and migrants have no intention to move to the official sites, especially after hearing about poor living conditions there. Faced with this new situation, the Greek media talk of a new Idomeni, but really there is little similarity. It is rather a posthumous scenario, more fragmented and with a different composition, with a visible majority of people from Afghanistan and Pakistan, mostly men, who travel alone or in groups.
Among them there is Nomi, who twice tried unsuccessfully to cross the border through the mountains. He will try again, he assures me while waiting in line for the breakfast that volunteers continue to offer every morning at the Hotel Hara. His compatriate Kumran is also adamant. “I lived in Madrid until 2007,” he says in good Spanish. “I went home when my father died, but in the meantime my residence permit had expired and I was no longer able to return. Now I’m trapped here for three months.”
“We want to move forward, not to go back,” scoffs Sharin, a young girl from Aleppo. While many other Syrians have preferred to move into government camps in the hope of getting out of a deadlock caused by a new pre-registration procedure to be launched shortly, she and her family, a group of 12 people in all, for now do not want to move farther from the border. They also don’t want to put themselves in the hands of smugglers, who have upped their prices tenfold in the post-Idomeni landscape. “They ask for €2,500 each,” Sharin said. “Before it was only €300. All we can do is wait and try to pass again.”
The wait, however, likely won’t last long. An eviction of these outposts near the border seems imminent. As if the plainclothes police monitoring the region weren’t enough, Alternate Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection Nikos Toskas confirmed on Monday there would be evacuations. In addition to his official statement, there are the words of the Migration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas, who, during his visit to Idomeni on Sunday, thanked the local population. “There will be no replication of what happened in the last three months. We will proceed with the dismantling of the informal settlements sprung up around here and everything will be done in a peaceful way,” he said.
“From the surveys we have carried out we can only confirm the criticality of the conditions of these new sites,” adds Arianna Zaccagnini, head of mission for the Italian NGO INTERSOS, active in the camps of Central Macedonia for two months. “In general the aid machine is moving, albeit very slowly. It is a complicated situation and to some extent a paradox because we are talking of only 50,000 people in the face of a significant financial commitment from the European Union.”
Just last month, the European Commission allocated €56 million in emergency funds to improve conditions for refugees and migrants in Greece. In addition to this provision, European Asylum Support Office approved a further €25 million on May 24 to implement the new pre-registration program and the subsequent relocation program.