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Society

Northern Greek Border Village Idomeni Seeing Migrants Coming Again

July 27, 2020

The northern Greek border village of Idomeni, an area where scores of thousands of refugees and migrants couldn't get across when neighboring North Macedonia closed its border is becoming a gathering point for them again.

The European Union border agency Frontex told Kathimerini that the village is becoming a gateway again for refugees and migrants stuck in Greece and desperate to get out, with some 100,000 in detention camps, including 34,000 on islands.

Frontex said scores of migrants continually stream across the Greek-Turkish land border, despite the tightening of security in the spring, gathering in and around the village of under 400 residents, the paper said.

“We have a problem again, they (migrants) are constantly arriving by train and on foot, waiting and hiding in the fields for an opportunity to cross the fence. There are constant thefts and houses are being burgled,” Mayor Xanthi Soupli said.

“People here are scared and there is not enough police to protect us. We are worried that we are facing a new 2015,” she said. “This is how it all started then.”

Greece has been trying to contain them especially during the COVID-19 pandemic although fears the virus could spread in the camps didn't materialize. Idomeni shows signs of becoming a flash point again after Turkey sent 10,000 migrants from other countries it had been holding to the Greek border along the Evros River in February.

They were repelled by Greek riot police and Army units but there are fears that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, provoking Greece in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, could send more waves to the land borders or Greek islands.

Info Migrants, using reports from Agence France-Presse (AFP,) noted that five years earlier,  hundreds of migrants and refugees passed through Idomeni to get into North Macedonia – then called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – and then to more prosperous EU countries a borden wall was erected and a camp evacuated.

“But now, the small village could become a hotspot again, with hundreds of migrants arriving each day in the hope of traveling to western Europe,” the report said, with one – identified only as Abdullah – saying he camped in a dilapidated building near the train station where he was found by AFP. “I will do everything to cross the border," he said, with refugees and migrants in Greece weary of waiting two years or more for asylum applications to be processed and European borders closed to them.

Entire families spend the night along the railway lines or in abandoned wagons near the train station, AFP reported. As soon as Greek police patrols appear, they disperse into nearby fields.

A swap deal was made between the EU and Turkey in 2016 but has been largely suspended, although Turkey has mostly kept detained some 3.3 million refugees and migrants who went there, although allowing human traffickers to keep sending them to five Greek islands near its coast.

At one point in 2015, Idomeni had more than 13,000 people on the border, some trying forcibly to cross but stymied by FYROM forces, before Greece moved in bulldozers to raze the camp and pitched tents.

Now, Idomeni is becoming a major transfer point for migrants and refugees once again. "Every day nearly 200 people arrive in Idomeni,"  Lazaros Oulis, who lives near the border crossing, told AFP. "Some have pitched tents in the fields. We are afraid that Idomeni will become a camp again," he said. 

Stuck in Greek camps with no hopes, many have given up waiting for asylum and walked away to try to cross the border again, picking Idomeni as their best chance to somehow get across the closed border with North Macedonia.

But most of the migrants and refuges in Idomeni reportedly come from Turkey, arriving n Greece by crossing the Evros River in the northeast and making their way westward, said AFP, saying hundreds cross the Greece-Turkey border daily..

At night, groups of people attempt to climb on commercial trains as blind passengers or they pierce holes in the wall along the border at night, AFP wrote.

"They jump on the train at the risk of being electrocuted by touching the high-voltage cables," said a train driver, who recently discovered 42 stowaways on board.

Those who get through invariably are caught by North Macedonian patrols and sent back to Greece. Some who do not manage to cross the border decide to walk 70 kilometers (43.49 miles) to reach the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki instead and plan another escape route.

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