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UNHCR and NGO’s withdraw from Greek islands, tension is rising in Idomeni

Tension is rising between the Greek government, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and several NGO’s like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) regarding the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, as an answer to the refugee crisis. The makeshift camp of Idomeni is also on a breaking point
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Both UNHCR and MSF announced their decision to withdraw from the so-called hotspots on the Greek islands. Hotspots are local facilities initially used to host refugees, while also registering them. However, UNHCR is denouncing that they have been turned into detention centers.

“Accordingly, and in line with our policy on opposing mandatory detention, we have suspended some of our activities at all closed centers on the islands,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said at the press briefing, on 22 March 2016, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Also, the MSF, which has been active both in Moria hotspot (Lesvos) and Idomeni border camp, has decided to suspend its activities. “We took the extremely difficult decision to end our activities in Moria because continuing to work inside would make us complicit in a system we consider to be both unfair and inhumane,” said Marie Elisabeth Ingres, MSF Head of Mission in Greece. “We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation and we refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants”. Doctors Without Borders operations included transportation of refugees to the center, water and sanitation activities and a medical clinic inside Moria hotspot.

Refugees trapped at Idomeni faced with dire conditions

Meanwhile, at the Greek borders in Idomeni, the situation is quickly deteriorating as well. Some 10.000-12.000 people, including 4.000 children, are estimated to be camping there in dire conditions. Refugees and immigrants have been protesting on a daily basis asking to cross the borders.

Yesterday, two desperate men set themselves on fire and are now hospitalized. According to hospital officials the injuries the two men suffered were not life threatening. Last night, a group of immigrants and refugees who went on hunger strike prohibited to Praxis, a Greek NGO, to serve food. This caused further tension as a result of which Praxis and other organizations stopped operating. However, there have been reports today that UNHCR, the Red Cross and Praxis as well, returned to distribute sandwiches and prepare meals.

Greek Migration minister, Yiannis Mouzalas told at the Greek Parliament yesterday, that in approximately one month the Idomeni makeshift camp will no longer exist. He also admitted in an interview last night conditions in Idomeni could result to the death of children. “Our concern is to prevent children from dying in the camp of Idomeni, but this is something no serious person could guarantee when there is this huge refugee flow. What I can guarantee is that we increase our efforts to prevent this from happening” he said.

Since Idomeni is placed next to train tracks, the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) has announced it will provide six train wagons to house refugees. Athanasios Schizas, OSE’s CEO, said they plan to provide up to 20 wagons for refugees’ needs.

The number of refugees trapped in Greece continues to rise

In the mid time, out of the 260 refugees who arrived at the port of Piraeus, on Wednesday morning, only 100 accepted to go to accommodation centers. Refugees are afraid they will be trapped, if the now open, hospitality centers become detention centers overnight. According to the most recent count, about 4.700 refugees remain at the port of Piraeus, where the army will also start distributing food. As of this morning, across Greece there are around 49.085 refugees.


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