Migrants scramble for food, firewood at Greek tent city

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2016 1:43 PM

By Lefteris Papadimas and Stoyan Nenov

IDOMENI, Greece (Reuters) - Scores of migrants stranded on Greece's northern border scuffled for free food and water on Thursday, struggling to seize eggs and bread thrown from a truck at the muddy tent city which has become their temporary home.

They were among thousands of people, many fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa, braving rain, wind and cold temperatures for days at a camp near the town of Idomeni, hoping border shutdowns throughout the Balkans will be lifted.

No one has crossed into Macedonia this week, Greek authorities say, and at least 12,000 people are stranded in squalid conditions in the camp - nearly eight times its capacity.

More than 40 percent of those are children, aid groups on the ground estimate. Babies, some just weeks old, lie down on cardboard boxes. Scores suffer from respiratory conditions.

"My daughter and my wife are crying all the time for two days," said 42-year-old Magir Asfour, who fled fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo. "Our tent is wet. We didn't sleep last night. It flooded."

After two days of rainfall, their flimsy summer tent, like others pitched beside them, is soaked through. Nearby, men try, unsuccessfully, to light fires using anything dry - from plastic bags to old, worn-out clothes and nappies.

"I'm carrying wood in the morning and my wife is waiting two hours in the rain to get a couple of sandwiches and an orange for my child," Asfour said.

It is a frequent sight across the camp: A young migrant boy trailing through the thick mud, dragging a blanket full of wet firewood to get him and others through the night.

Others are pushing cartfuls of logs to their family's tent, and men stagger wearily along muddy pools of water, weighed down by heavy tree trunks on their shoulders.

Conditions show little sign of improving. Dozens jostled for supplies this week when a shipment of firewood ordered by non-governmental organizations arrived at the camp.

On Thursday, they climbed onto a truck packed with free supplies - rice, pasta, water, diapers - and tossed eggs and bags of food to fellow migrants.

By the latest count, there were more 41,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece on Thursday, a day after Macedonia sealed its razor-wired fence border with Greece to "illegal migrants" after Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia announced tight new restrictions on migrant entry.

More than 130,000 people have reached Europe from Turkey this year and despite the Balkan route being closed, arrivals to Greece continued unabated on Thursday, with more than 2,300 arrivals to its eastern Aegean islands by early morning.

(Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Alison Williams)