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Idomeni clear-out
26.5.16
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Eric Kempson on Facebook post this report today (26.5.16)

"This post was put on by Phoebe Ramsey a must to read. This what has happened in the last 36 hours, summarized to the best of my ability in my present exhausted, sad, and angry state.

At present, there are only a couple of hundred people left in Idomeni. There has been no major resistance or violence. It seems everyone was resigned and complied in the face of the enormous presence of riot police. As the tents have been emptied, bulldozers have come in to flatten them. Just over 2,000 people were moved yesterday, and about 1,000 today. Given that there were at least 7,000 people in Idomeni two days ago, this means that about 4,000 people are 'unaccounted' for. They have either tried to go to the major cities, or made a panicked rush for the border-hundreds and hundreds of people headed west into the woods last night. This is in convenient conjunction with today's reported announcement by police that from now on, anyone caught and returned by FYROM (pushbacks) from an illegal border crossing will be arrested in Greece, and have any existing asylum claims canceled.

Only 5 staff members from each of six NGOs and two volunteer groups have been allowed access to Idomeni throughout this process. This includes medical staff. MSF has been unable to access the toilets to clean them. Water was cut off for a period. Food distribution has been drastically reduced, and there has been no provision for infant feeding. All journalists have been escorted out.

The people have been brought primarily to six brand new camps, most in the suburbs of Thessaloniki, as well as to some of the pre-existing camps. The conditions in all of these new camps range from just depressing and sterile to physically unsafe and uninhabitable. Most of these new camps consist of army tents set up in old warehouses or abandoned factories in industrial zones. Some have not been cleaned inside prior to setting up the tents and are filthy. Several of the camps do not have any drinking water. At least one has no toilets. Most have no on site medical care, not to mention adequate care or any food for infants, or basic NFI like diapers. There are no translators. Just soldiers. There is no NGO or UNHCR presence yet-these camps have been developed largely in secrecy by the government, and are not approved or have actually been outright condemned by the UNHCR.

My friend witnessed several of the buses arriving at a new camp-built for 500 people-200 metres from a remote village of 43 inhabitants. The soldiers were wearing surgical masks and gloves. A woman started crying and saying "we are not animals." The local people were looking on in astonishment, fear, and apprehension. All but 9 of the 500 people stayed on the buses and refused to get off. The buses eventually left again in the middle of the night, after 12 hours. We don't know where they ended up.

Oreokastro, the main warehouse camp near Thessaloniki to which people have been moved to slowly from Idomeni for the past two weeks, is now absolutely overflowing with almost 1400 people and vastly insufficient WASH facilities. Tensions are extremely high.

Families have been separated. One man, who was trying to return to his children in Idomeni after a shift working as a translator for an NGO, was threatened with arrest by police if he did not leave. He was told to go to the nearest military camp 'the next day' and ask where his family had ended up. Unaccompanied minors left in the camp have had no special provisions made for them.

We have been running an ad hoc command centre and trying to collate all the information about the population movements and these new camps as we discover them, assess needs, and deploy teams for emergency relief-working together with the NGOs to pool information and resources. It's absolutely mad. Late last night, for example, when we finally thought we perhaps had a handle on identifying all the new camps, we got a call from one of the NGO staff members that they had 'discovered' a new camp with 700 people and which had no infant food (or drinking water), which we were luckily able to provide from the volunteer warehouse.

Idomeni was not a good place. It was dangerous and disease ridden. I do not want anyone to live there. But you cannot tell me these camps are any better. They're not. Yes, some of them may and will be improved in coming weeks as conditions are improved by the state as well as NGOs and volunteers (and in one of the warehouse camps to which people started to be moved five days ago, volunteer teams have already made an enormous improvement).

However, that the Greek state has moved people into camps which are lacking in such basic facilities as drinking water and some into buildings which I sincerely believe may be physically unsafe and a danger to human health, is outrageous, and we should all be outraged."


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