Thousands stranded in Greece after EU border closures

  • 12/03/2016

Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants are stuck in camps and ports across Greece, as authorities struggle to convince them the main passage to reach wealthy northern Europe has shut.

By early morning on Friday hundreds more people, many from the Middle East and Africa, had reached Greek islands, days after the shutdowns along the "Balkan route" were imposed.

Their arrival helped swell the number of those stuck across the country to over 42,000.

At a sprawling, muddy tent city near the northern border town of Idomeni, 12,000 people, among them thousands of children and babies, waited to cross to Macedonia.

"These people maintain the hope that a number of them will cross to the north," Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas told Greek media.

"We're trying to convince them ... that the Balkan route has closed."

Further south, more than 3500 people waited at the main port of Piraeus near Athens after having arrived on ships from the eastern Aegean islands.

"At Piraeus we spent five hours trying to get people on buses and take them to a camp, but they didn't want to board," Toskas said.

"They think that once you reach Idomeni, you cross to central Europe."

Scuffles have broken out at Idomeni this week as destitute migrants and refugees scrambled for food and firewood. Tensions flared briefly on Friday and at least one man was injured, with blood streaming down his face, during a handout of supplies.

Many have slept in the open, often in the rain and low temperatures.

"In Syria we are fighting ISIS (Islamic State), now we are fighting nature and I think it's worse," said Ali, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo who has been in Greece for 20 days.

Greece has been the main entry point into Europe for more than a million refugees and migrants since last year. More than 130,000 people have arrived this year alone, stretching the country's limited resources.

So far, Greece has the capacity to host 30,000 people at camps and centres across the country and aims to raise that to 50,000 by next week, Deputy Defence Minister Dimitris Vitsas said.

"We need to convince these people, in every possible, non-violent way, that there are shelters in mainland Greece to host them," he told a Greek radio station.