Greece to start evacuating Idomeni migrant camp within days

AP News
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Posted: May 23, 2016 11:55 AM
Greece to start evacuating Idomeni migrant camp within days

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities will start a gradual evacuation of the country's main informal camp for refugees and other migrants within the next 10 days, officials said Monday.

Police and government officials said the estimated 8,400 people at Idomeni, on the closed northern border with Macedonia, will be sent to newly completed, organized camps.

Riot police units were being moved Monday from other parts of Greece to Idomeni.

Giorgos Kyritsis, a government spokesman for the refugee crisis, said the operation should start Tuesday or Wednesday, and insisted police would not use force.

"I believe the (operation) will be completed in a week to 10 days," Kyritsis told private Star television.

"We are not talking about a police roundup operation, but ... there is a need for people to leave Idomeni. We currently have 6,500 available places in existing shelters and will complete the rest over the next few days."

Greece has been trying for months to persuade Idomeni camp residents to move, and few at the camp Monday appeared to welcome the news.

"It's much better here than in the camps. That's what everybody who's been there said," Hind Al Mkawi, a 38-year-old refugee from Damascus, told the AP.

I've heard (of the pending evacuation) too. It's not good ... because we've already been here for three months and we'll have to spend at least another six in the camps before relocation. It's a long time. We don't have money or work — what will we do?"

About 54,000 migrants have been stuck in Greece since a series of Balkan border closures in March.

The government said its campaign of voluntary evacuations was already working, with police reporting that eight buses carrying about 400 people left Idomeni Sunday.

Abdo Rajab, a 22-year-old refugee from Raqqa in Syria, has spent the past three months in Idomeni, and is now considering paying smugglers to be taken to Germany clandestinely.

"We hear that tomorrow we will all go to camps," he said. "I don't mind, but my aim is not reach the camps but to go Germany."

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AP writer Nicholas Paphitis contributed

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