Thousands of refugees despair as Greek-Macedonian border remains closed

IDOMENI, Greece -- Despair and confusion spread through the camp at the Greek-Macedonian border Tuesday as thousands of stranded refugees were forced to acknowledge that the route through Europe that had carried their hopes and dreams was now shut.

See Full Article

The dozens of people crammed together at the front of the line to the border crossing looked at the closed gate and razor wire in disbelief. One young Syrian muttered he had been in the tent at the crossing for five days without sleeping. It was his 15th day at the Idomeni refugee camp.

One woman broke down, crying and screaming as she held her baby in her arms while a man tried to calm and comfort her. Refugees asked reporters what had happened in Brussels, and asked what they could or should do next.

European Union leaders who held a summit with Turkey said early Tuesday they hoped they had reached the outlines for a possible deal with Ankara to return thousands of migrants to Turkey, and said they were confident a full agreement could be reached at a summit next week.

They also said the "irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkans route have now come to an end."

Nobody has crossed through the Idomeni border gate since early Monday morning. The nail in the coffin for the main Balkan migration route came late Tuesday evening, when Serbia's Interior Ministry said Slovenia will demand valid EU visas at its borders as of midnight Tuesday. That means Serbia will act accordingly and close its borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria for those who do not have valid documents.

Nearly 14,000 people, who all risked their lives to get to Greece, have waited for days and weeks in the cold, rain and mud at the overflowing refugee camp in Idomeni, ripping branches off trees to use as firewood.

About 100 people boarded two buses, one Tuesday morning and one in the evening, bound south for Athens and whichever refugee camp might have room for them. Greek authorities have said they will not forcibly evacuate people from Idomeni.

Some said they still had hope.

"I will just wait," said Aslan al Katib, a 21-year-old Syrian format engineering student from Damascus who hopes to reach Germany. "We want to continue our journey."

Al Katib said he had worked for months in Turkey, stacking heavy boxes in a factory making baby strollers, working 12 hours a day, six days a week for little pay, to finance his journey across Europe.

"Trust me, I worked hard for this. And for what? They say 'we are closed, we don't want to let you pass."' He said he wanted to finish his studies in Germany, learn German and then repay Germany by working hard for the country, and ultimately go home to Syria when the war is over.

"It's a bad situation. What are we now to do? What are we waiting for?" al Katib questioned. "I work hard. Just give me security."

Human rights and aid organizations criticized the EU-Turkey plan.

"European leaders have completely lost track of reality, and the deal currently being negotiated between the EU and Turkey is one of the clearest examples of their cynicism," said Aurelie Ponthieu, humanitarian affairs adviser on displacement for the Medecins Sans Frontiers medical aid organization.

"For each refugee that will risk their life at sea and will be summarily sent back to Turkey, another one may have the chance to reach Europe from Turkey under a proposed resettlement scheme. This crude calculation reduces people to mere numbers, denying them humane treatment and discarding their right to seek protection."

Twenty-year-old Samih Samman, 20, from Damascus, said he had been in Idomeni for 15 days.

"I don't know what to do any more. I spend my days in a large tent along with my mother and my two brothers," who are aged 16 and 10. "I hope they will allow at least the families to go through."

The developments came after a particularly miserable night, with strong wind and driving, heavy rain. With the official camp overflowing, thousands of people have set up small tents donated by aid agencies in the surrounding fields and along the adjacent railway tracks. And still more people arrive each day, many walking for miles from a nearby petrol station where buses from Athens stop.

The overnight thunderstorm turned parts of the field into a muddy swamp, with refugees lighting small campfires to dry out their wet clothes and blankets in the morning fog.

"Everything here is like a big casino and they play, dirty play. We are the playing cards. No one looks at us as humankind," Syrian Abu Haida said of the results of the summit in Brussels. "We have dreams, life, children."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Parents lose suit over making kids walk to bus stop

    World News CTV News
    FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, N.J. - An administrative law judge has ruled against a New Jersey couple who said it was unsafe to make their children walk less than a mile to a bus stop. The parents, identified only by initials in court papers, claimed the bus should pick up their 9- and 12-year-old at the end of their driveway in Franklin Township like it had. Source
  • Assad maintains power over smouldering ruin of Syria

    World News CTV News
    BEIRUT -- His nation is a smouldering ruin, much of it held by rival armed factions, domestic or foreign. Half the population is displaced, hundreds of thousands have died and much of the West regards him as a tyrant and human rights abuser. Source
  • Man sentenced to life for grocery clerk murder appealing verdict

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Randy Tshilumba, the Quebec man convicted in October of brutally stabbing a young woman to death in a busy Montreal grocery store, is appealing the verdict. Defence lawyer Julie Giroux filed the appeal Monday and asked the court to either declare her client not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder or to order a new trial. Source
  • Russia confirms spike in radioactivity after nuclear accident claims

    World News CBC News
    Russia's meteorological service said on Tuesday it had measured pollution of a radioactive isotope at nearly 1,000 times normal levels in the Ural mountains, the first official Russian data supporting reports that an accident had taken place. Source
  • Judge permanently blocks Trump's order on sanctuary cities

    World News CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO - A federal judge on Monday permanently blocked U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order to cut funding from cities that limit co-operation with U.S. immigration authorities. U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick rejected the administration's argument that the executive order applies only to a relatively small pot of money and said Trump cannot set new conditions on spending approved by Congress. Source
  • This man travelled 90,000 km across Ontario to break a bird-watching record

    Canada News CBC News
    Jeremy Bensette has tracked rare birds to the far ends of Ontario, putting enough kilometres on his navy SUV to cross Canada 11 and-a-half times without leaving the province. The 27-year-old is doing an Ontario Big Year, setting out on January 1st to spot as many species of birds in the province as possible before the end of 2017. Source
  • Toronto councillor hopes Ottawa's plan to allow prescription heroin will help drug users

    Canada News CBC News
    Toronto doctors could gain the ability to write prescriptions for pharmaceutical-grade heroin by the end of the year, something one councillor says would improve treatment options for drug users in this city. The federal government announced it would support several measures to combat the crisis of opioid-related overdose deaths last week. Source
  • Health Canada report calls for big tax hike on cigarettes

    Canada News CBC News
    Ottawa needs to hike tobacco taxes significantly to meet its long-term target of reducing smoking to just five per cent of the Canadian population, says a report for Health Canada. The internal report, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act, says cigarette taxes have been the most effective tool for cutting smoking, based on the Canadian experience since 1999. Source
  • Payroll problems, Syrian refugee resettlement are on auditor general's radar

    Canada News CBC News
    Canada's spending watchdog will release his fall reports today, digging in to a range of issues from pay problems for public servants to resettlement services for Syrian refugees. Auditor General Michael Ferguson's six audits will be tabled in the House of Commons at 10 a.m. Source
  • Who is Reza Zarrab? Turkish-Iranian gold trader may be working with Mueller investigation of Michael Flynn

    World News CBC News
    The mystery of Reza Zarrab may be unraveling. The Turkish-Iranian businessman has been in a U.S. prison since 2016, but last week, reports emerged that he had been moved and is talking to U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller about former U.S. Source