Greece: Europe’s road to nowhere

As talks to stop the flow of migrants into Greece continue, more than 1,300 vulnerable people continue to arrive on Greek islands every day. Over 35,000 have been stranded across Greece for the past weeks.

Many of them have made their way north to the border town of Idomeni. They sleep in tents pitched on train tracks in cold winter winds. Queuing, often for hours to get food or use the toilet, some have waited here for weeks in the hope of crossing into Macedonia.

With border restrictions tightening, Greece is increasingly becoming a holding centre for tens of thousands of vulnerable people.

The ever-changing border situation, coupled with the lack of accommodation and basic services, is creating a grave humanitarian crisis.

Idomeni

The way ahead lies behind a razor-wire fence built at the border. Beyond is Macedonia — the route into the Balkans — now firmly closed.

Only a few weeks after new border restrictions came into effect more than 10,000 people are marooned in Idomeni. Fifty per cent are women or children. A number of camps are opening across northern Greece to prepare for people staying longer term.

The makeshift camps exist in part because of a concertina of closures and restrictions on borders throughout the Western Balkan route.

Conditions are dire with families sleeping in small tents or out in the open. Hundreds more are arriving each day.

There are 24 showers and 140 toilet cubicles in the camp. Children, including newborns, have been rushed to hospital with scabies, influenza and dysentery.

What’s the Red Cross doing to help?

Staff and volunteers have been helping in Idomeni by providing health care, food, nappies, water, hygiene kits, sleeping mats and backpacks. They have been providing practical and emotional support, especially to children.

At the request of the authorities, the Hellenic Red Cross (the Red Cross in Greece) are also providing medical aid and distributing relief items at other sites in the area.

Red Cross Societies around Europe have sent teams to support this work.

“Food is in short supply, conditions are worsening and many people have waited for over two weeks without proper shelter or clothing,” said Angelica Fanaki, Head of Migration Operations at the Hellenic Red Cross.

Traces of normality

Amidst the interminable waiting and the suffering, you can spot the traces of normality and routine in the camp. Children play games, and people gather to share stories. Particularly when the rains let up, you are left with the remarkable impression of the strength and resilience of these people who have already been through so much.

More than 132,000 people have arrived in Greece during the first few months of 2016, up from 6,000 during the same period in 2015. Almost 75 per cent are fleeing the war-torn countries of Syria and Iraq.

Photos from Caroline Haga and Neményi Márton.

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