This morning, another big protest took place in Idomeni. Around 400 people blocked the train tracks during the entire day, keeping cargo trains from crossing the border. The police intended to blackmail the protesters by stating that they would open the border if they left the train tracks. However, for the protesters it was clear: “They are lying to us! They say that the border will open, but nobody passed today and yesterday only 50 people passed. They are lying to us!”
The situation is getting tenser; people are questioning whether they will ever be able to pass this border. Many have figured out that the small number of people passing is a strategy of the authorities: “They only let some people pass to keep our hopes up, to keep us waiting calmly.”
There have been new camps opening in the surrounding area of Polykastro, where reportedly the few remaining people from the gas station in Polykastro have been taken. However, it has also been reported that these camps are not really ready to accommodate the said 2000 people. Whether the authorities’ containment strategy works with this camp remains to be seen. Possibly, many will make their way to the border in the next days anyways.
Meanwhile, the camp in Idomeni is extending steadily across the surrounding fields. More people keep arriving, on foot and with taxis. All day long there has been a steady trickle of new people, packed with their heavy bags, blankets and small children in their arms. They try to find their way around the already overcrowded camp, hoping to find a tent and a spot to set it up. The number of people exceeds the camp capacity by at least a fourfold. It is only a matter of time until the daily protests become no longer appeaseable.
Some impressions of today:
On the 18th of November 2015, Slovenia closed its borders for refugees who are not from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. Just a little later, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia also adopted this practice of segregation. There is little doubt about that this policy was pushed by the European Union as a starting point for slowing down or even stopping the flow over the Balkan route. Thousands of refugees were stuck in Eidomeni, Greece, and started to protest. The Moving Europe Bus was on the spot and reported live from the 22nd of November to the 11th of December 2015 – when the camp had been evicted. On the 5th of February 2016, we decided to restart our live-ticker as the new year has already seen several attempts from the European Union to slow down the migration movement towards Europe. Macedonia seems to become a key player in this strategy. For several weeks the Macedonian border authorities have slowed down the transit process. The predictable effect of this, given the high arrival numbers to the Greek islands, is that thousands are becoming stuck in Greece. On the 3th of February the Macedonian government announced its plans to strengthen border controls which will further reduce the speed of the transit process. In the meantime, the Greek authorities have established a new buffer zone near to Eidomeni. Since the camp at the border has already become highly overcrowded, there are fears that the violent scenes of last December in Eidomeni will be repeated. Therefore the authorities have decided that people should be kept at bay, at a gas station on the highway that is 20 km far away from the border (at Polykastro). For weeks migrants have had to stay there for hours under miserable conditions. Since the end of January the situation at the Greek border zone has escalated once more. There is only a trickle of people being let through to Macedonia and now people at the gas station have to wait for days before their buses finally leave towards the border. On the 3rd of February 2016 thousands of them decided not to wait any longer at the petrol station and started to walk towards the Macedonian border (#marchofhope 2). Further protests and tensions are to be expected. The Moving Europe Bus is on the spot since the 2nd of February and reports live from Polykastro and Eidomeni.