IDOMENI, Greece – Police have removed hundreds of migrants from a camp at Greece’s border with Macedonia following a protest that halted freight rail services to other Balkan countries.
In France, hundreds of migrants camped in the port of Calais face a deadline Tuesday evening to move out. However, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve insisted the evacuation would be “progressive.”
Greek authorities said the mostly Afghan migrants were being put on buses bound for Athens, in the south of the country, after the police operation started early Tuesday. Journalists were not allowed to approach the area.
The migrants were to be taken to an army-built camp near Athens that was set up last week, following European Union pressure on Athens to complete screening and temporary housing facilities.
Before Tuesday’s police operation, Afghan families were seen pleading with Macedonian riot police officers, through a border fence, to let them cross the frontier.
Macedonia at the weekend began stopping Afghan migrants at the border, and slowing the rate at which asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq were allowed to cross the border – leaving thousands stranded in Greece, where an average of 4,000 migrants and refugees each day.
More than 1 million migrants and refugees reached the EU last year, with more than 80 per cent of them travelling from Turkey to nearby Greek islands.
Greek has strongly criticized Austria’s decision last week to cap the daily number of asylum applications and migrants crossing the country. Ioannis Mouzalas, a migration minister in Greece, accused Austria and allied EU member states in eastern Europe of “lacking European culture” and undermining efforts to forge a common European response with unilateral action.
The relief agency International Rescue Committee late Monday said Macedonia’s decision to turn Afghans away was “yet another example of arbitrary, unilateral decisions by individual states threatening to cause serious humanitarian consequences for desperate refugees.”
Mirwais Amin, a 20-year-old Afghan migrant, said he was separated from relatives after being stopping from reaching the border and camping out at a nearby site.
“Macedonia isn’t letting migrants through. I can’t understand why,” he said.
“I can’t get to the (border) camp, and members of my family are there. It’s cold here and we have no food.”