As health fears grow, Greece seeks to ease migrant buildup on border

Report
from Agence France-Presse
Published on 09 Mar 2016

Athens, Greece | AFP | Wednesday 3/9/2016 - 11:27 GMT

Greece was desperately trying Wednesday to coax thousands of refugees into abandoning an increasingly-unsanitary camp at its Macedonia border as health fears grew after a string of nations shut their borders.

"There is an effort to transport the refugees southwards... where they can (find) humane living conditions," deputy interior minister Yiannis Balafas told Alpha radio.

The Greek government says there are nearly 36,000 migrants and refugees in the country, but police in the north said there were another 4,000 people not accounted for in the figures, bringing the total to around 40,000.

Over 14,000 mainly Syrian and Iraqi refugees are camped out by the northern Idomeni border crossing -- many of them for weeks -- at a muddy, unhygienic camp operated by beleaguered aid groups.

The buildup began in mid February after a string of countries from Austria to Macedonia started limiting the number of refugees allowed to enter as they make their way to wealthier countries such as Germany and Scandinavia.

Late Tuesday, Slovenia and Croatia both said no migrants would be allowed to cross, with Serbia indicating it would follow suit.

With heavy rainfall in Idomeni almost every day and the risk of infectious diseases rising, Greece's state health watchdog Keelpno on Wednesday dispatched two mobile units to the border to vaccinate children suffering from the cold, rain and poor sanitary conditions.

"We are monitoring the situation and are here to take the necessary measures," Keelpno chief Athanassios Giannopoulos told reporters.

"The situation is under control," he said.

Greek officials have had difficulty persuading people to relocate to other camps further inland as many fear they could be forced to spend months there.

  • 'Too many people' -

"We were (at Idomeni) for two weeks, it was raining and very cold," said Oussama, a 45-year-old Syrian from Aleppo, one of the few who agreed to return to the port of Piraeus.

"There were too many people ahead of us, so me and other Syrians decided to come here and request to be relocated. I don't care where this is, I know it will be far better than Syria," he told AFP.

The European Union has in place a scheme to relocate some 160,000 asylum seekers from frontline states Greece and Italy, but so far, fewer than a thousand have left.

"We spent a week at Idomeni before we realised that we would not be able to pass," says Ali, a 35-year-old accompanied by his pregnant wife and two young children.

"We need to go somewhere peaceful so we can live there with our baby," he said.

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