Protest in Polikastro – most vulnerable people are housed in tents without proper mattresses in Cherso.
In Cherso, a camp close to the Macedonian / FYROM border, the situation seems to have improved a little since our last visit 5 weeks ago. On the dirt road there is now gravel, and a drainage trenches have been dug throughout the camp. And sometimes wifi-access is available in some areas. But to stay for weeks in tents, without mattresses and without information is very harsh. According to the UNHCR there are over 3’900 people „housed“ in the current 440 tents. This estimation seems too high for us. We were told that many people try to find their own way out of the muddy camp and move on.
No proper housing for most vulnerable people
What was shocking in Cherso is the fact that even the most vulnerable people have to sleep in these tents without proper mattresses such as a man that suffers from chronic kidney failure and has to go to the hospital for dialysis three times a week. Or a person from Syria that was shot in the back in the war and is now paraplegic. Or a pregnant woman, that should lie in bed for the next few months because of a blockage of the uteri by the placenta. Or two women with newborns, that weigh less than 2kg.
Family reunification: Greek asylum service not reachable
As in all other camps, we spoke to many women, who have their husbands or children in Germany. They all are trying to get an appointment with the Greek asylum service via Skype (as this is the only way to reach the asylum service). But nobody succeeded and it is therefore no surprise that people get more and more frustrated.
Protest in Polykastro
In the near by camp of Nea Kavala (according to UNHCR also over 3’900 people in 611 tents) the tensions are also rising. Around 100 people of the camp took the streets and walked to the near by town of Polykastro, shouting: „Open the borders!“
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.