Greece clears migrant camps near border, volunteers detained

AP News
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Posted: Jun 13, 2016 1:55 PM
Greece clears migrant camps near border, volunteers detained

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Police detained 34 volunteers in northern Greece Monday while clearing makeshift migrant camps along the border with Macedonia.

Scores of riot police were deployed as 1,065 Syrians and 58 Iraqis were ordered out of a camp set up around a gas station near the Greek border with Macedonia and moved by bus to a shelter near the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The detained volunteers — all non-Greeks who had been helping migrants with food distribution and other basic needs — were all released without charge following identification checks at a nearby police station, authorities said. Journalists were not allowed access to the site during the police operation.

Greece has continued to expand shelter space to house stranded refugees and migrants. Authorities said a site previously used to store grain had been modified by the army and was being used as a shelter where the migrants were being taken.

Around 3,000 refugees and migrants were camped at the border at three sites after authorities cleared a huge makeshift camp at Idomeni last month.

More than 50,000 migrants remain stranded in Greece following European border closures and an agreement reached in March between the European Union and Turkey to deport newly arrived migrants traveling across the Aegean Sea.

In the Greek capital, refugees at government shelters housed in a sprawling former sports complex for the 2004 Athens Olympics began registering for asylum Monday.

"They had not intended to apply for international protection in Greece, but due to the circumstances they have been, so to speak, trapped," Maria Stavropoulou, director of the Greek Asylum Service, told the AP.

Separately, Greece's coast guard said a distress call had been received from a suspected migrant smuggling boat carrying approximately 200 people in international waters south of the island of Crete and inside Libya's search and rescue area of responsibility.

A nearby Greek-flagged tanker and a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship headed to the area to provide assistance, after Libyan authorities asked Greece for help. The coast guard later said the vessel was able to continue on a western course, escorted by the merchant ships.

Hundreds of people have died in recent weeks in shipwrecks in the southern Mediterranean, with overcrowded and unseaworthy boats sinking on their way from the shores of north Africa towards Europe, usually heading to Italy.

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Derek Gatopoulos, Elena Becatoros, Nicholas Paphitis and Raphael Kominis in Athens contributed

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