Influx of migrants to Greece dwindles; tensions still high at Idomeni

The inflow of migrants to the Greek islands continued to dwindle, figures from the Athens authorities showed Tuesday, but tensions remained high at Idomeni, where thousands of frustrated people are stranded at the sealed Macedonian border.

The Greek migration crisis management body said that only 96 people arrived on the Aegean islands from Turkey in the 24 hours from Monday, after 282 made the sea crossing over the weekend.

The figures mark a sharp drop from March, when, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, around 900 migrants arrived daily. The numbers are incomparable with those from the latter half of 2015, when thousands made the dangerous crossing each day.

The surge broke in the wake of an agreement the European Union struck with Turkey last month in a bid to curb the unchecked inflow of migrants through Greece, including asylum seekers from war zones in Syria and Iraq.

Instead of passing through Greece and other Balkan countries before seeking shelter in wealthy EU states, primarily Germany, migrants can now only reach Europe through the complex mechanism of the EU-Turkey deal, which includes the return of most asylum seekers to Turkey. 

Despite that, more than 11,000 migrants, many of them Syrians and Iraqis, continued to crowd the camp at Idomeni on the Greek border with Macedonia, hoping eventually to be allowed through.

The wait under miserable conditions has now extended to nearly two months for most, and fading hope has frayed nerves at Idomeni. 

On Sunday, several thousand migrants tried to break through the border fence, but were violently stopped by Macedonian police. The incident aggravated the traditionally poor relations between Athens and Skopje, which swapped accusations over the incident.

Greece said that Macedonia treated the migrants with excessive roughness, while Macedonia demanded Greece stop the migrants from approaching the border fence.

Idomeni camp, which was built for a brief stay of up to 2,000 people, is set to be dismantled and its population relocated, but it remains unclear when that may happen. 

Greek authorities have been reluctant to press the migrants into moving. 

Both Macedonian and Greek police assured the migrants that the border will remain shut, but rumours that it is about to open circulate the camp regularly and people have stayed put, not wanting to miss their chance of continuing their journeys.

Greek police stepped up controls over the activity of aid workers in the camp following accusations from both sides of the border that some of them were spreading the rumours about the border opening.

Police on both sides of the fence also remain on alert since Sunday's incident.

Greek authorities moved around 1,000 migrants from a makeshift camp in Athens' port of Piraeus to a newly constructed facility with air-conditioned containers for 3,000 people west of the city, at Skaramangas, media reports said Tuesday.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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