After we have been in Athens for some days, we are back in Idomeni now. Also there have been some changes in the team. However, the camp in Idomeni got much more structured and professionalised, as the ones of us who left Idomeni three weeks ago immediately recognized. Furthermore, there are much more big tents from MSF and small „private“ tents now then three weeks ago. The police is still present with some buses in the camp, but acts very passive, although the railway tracks are blocked since days.
During the day, more than 200 refugees blocked the highway E75 to Thessaloniki. The blockade took place in front of the informal camp at the Polykastro gas station (about 20 kilometres away from Idomeni/the border), where some thousand people are currently living. During the blockade, children were playing football on the highway. In the evening there were still some people and tents on the highway, but cars could pass by. Many people watched the football match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in the shop of the gas station.
Close to the gas station in Polykastro there is the „official“ camp Nea Kavala, which is located on military ground. Visitors are not allowed to enter and the atmosphere is more tense than in Idomeni, due to police and military presence. Even from outside it is forbidden to take photos of the camp and we were told to leave the area immediately, even though we were not taking photos. Anyway, we will visit the other „official“ camps in Northern Greece the next days and report here.
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.