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Refugees’ plight deepens in Greece

Refugees sit waiting to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near Idomeni, northern Greece, on Tuesday. Thousands of people remained stranded in the refugee camp at Idomeni, on the Greek border with Macedonia, hours after the European Union and Turkey failed to reach agreement on resolving the migration crisis. Around 1,000 people are expected to disembark 08 March in the Athens' port of Piraeus and to continue north, toward Idomeni.  EPA/Valdrin Xhemai

Refugees sit waiting to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near Idomeni, northern Greece, on Tuesday. Thousands of people remained stranded in the refugee camp at Idomeni, on the Greek border with Macedonia, hours after the European Union and Turkey failed to reach agreement on resolving the migration crisis. Around 1,000 people are expected to disembark 08 March in the Athens’ port of Piraeus and to continue north, toward Idomeni. EPA/Valdrin Xhemai

Idomeni [DPA]

Thousands of people remain stranded in the refugee camp at Idomeni, on the Greek border with Macedonia, hours after the European Union and Turkey failed to reach agreement on resolving the migrant crisis.

Making matters worse, heavy rain fell on Monday night. It was the second massive rainfall in five days again and turned the area into an ocean of mud, with many tents waterlogged.

People hung clothes, wrung out blankets and carefully dried the refugee documents they use as an ersatz valid passport. Fires were lit, but with the supply of wood for burning exhausted in the vicinity, some people burned plastic, creating noxious smoke.

The camp was set up to host no more than 2000 people on a short-term basis, but has now swelled to include more than 13,000 people who cannot move on as Macedonia has drastically limited the number of people it will allow to cross into its territory. Many have been waiting for more than three weeks.

It was unclear whether any refugee were allowed to head north through Macedonia on Tuesday.

The crush of people was also felt further north. A refugee from Iraq told DPA by phone that he and a group of others have been stranded on Macedonia’s border with Serbia since Friday morning, apparently as authorities there await a clear signal from the EU about the way ahead for migration policy.

At the same time, the surge from the south continued, with migrants, mostly Syrian refugees, continuing to arrive on the Greek mainland by ferry after making the dangerous Aegean crossing from Turkey.

Around 1000 people are expected to disembark on Tuesday in the Athens’ port of Piraeus and to continue north, toward Idomeni.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 132,177 people have crossed from Turkey to Greece since the start of 2016.

No end to the mass migration was in sight after the EU and Turkey failed on Monday to strike a deal to limit the number of people fleeing to Europe.

Baltics erect border fences

Meanwhile, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are tightening ID controls and erecting fences on their eastern borders, worried the Baltic region will become a new entry point for refugees as migrant routes through the Balkans becomes harder.

Governments fear they could see thousands of refugees cross from former ruler Russia – the focus of long historical mistrust – and Belarus.

Concerns have grown since around 6000 asylum seekers crossed into Finland and Norway from Russia last year.

Latvia and Estonia have begun to fence off their border with Russia.

Security concerns also played a part after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean region and accusations an Estonian security officer was kidnapped on the border region in 2014.

Hundreds of Lithuanian border guards, police and soldiers started an exercise this week over handling a border crisis.

The reintroduction of ID checks on part of the border with its northern neighbour Latvia will also be tested at the exercise.

‘Until last year, neither Norway nor Finland had any migration problems on the Russian border,’ commander of the Lithuanian state border guard Renatas Pozela told Reuters.

‘Then migrant flows on that border jumped up in a single week, as if by the wave of a magic wand.’

As controls tighten over the direct route from Greece into continental Europe, the route through Moldova, Ukraine and into the Baltic may become more popular, officials say.

 


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