Greece moves hundreds of asylum-seekers from crowded island camp

Children from Afghanistan wait to board a catamaran that will transfer them to the mainland, in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By Alkis Konstantinidis

LESBOS, Greece (Reuters) – Greece began moving hundreds of asylum-seekers on Monday from a camp on the island of Lesbos that holds around four times the number of people it was built for.

Over 11,000 refugees and migrants, most of whom have fled war or poverty in the Middle East, Asia or Africa, are holed up at Moria in Europe’s biggest migrant camp.

Some 635 people, mostly families, boarded a passenger ship on Monday for facilities in northern Greece, and more were due to leave later in the day.

Moving asylum-seekers from island camps to the mainland is part of government measures announced on Aug. 31 to deal with the rising numbers. All of Greece’s five formal island camps are over capacity.

Moria, which is a disused military base, has been criticized by humanitarian organizations for its squalid living conditions.

It currently holds the highest number of people in three years and violence is not uncommon. An Afghan boy was killed in a fight there last month and women have told aid groups they often feel unsafe.

Greece is Europe’s main gateway for Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi asylum-seekers, and accounts for more than half of the 56,000 migrants who have landed on the Mediterranean’s northern shore this year.

The numbers are small compared to the nearly 1 million people who fled to northern Europe through Greece in 2015, as a deal between the EU and Ankara in March 2016 all but cut off the flow. But they have still piled pressure on Greek facilities.

About 7,000 people landed on Greece’s shores last month, the highest number since the deal was signed. Last Thursday alone, more than a dozen boats arrived with around 600 migrants, prompting the government’s Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense to hold an emergency session.

To curb the influx, Greece also plans to tighten its border controls and speed up deportations of rejected asylum-seekers.

(Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Charities warn of drowning danger as migrants camp along Paris canal

Tents where migrants live in a makeshift camp are seen on the Quai de Valmy of the canal Saint-Martin in Paris, France, May 15, 2018. Picture taken May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

By Julie Carriat and Clotaire Achi

PARIS (Reuters) – With hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers packed in tents alongside a Paris canal and under a nearby bridge, charities are warning of the risk from drowning and violence if the authorities do not act to tackle makeshift camps.

Two young men – one Afghan and one probably Sudanese – drowned in the canal this month from the camps housing more than 2,400 people by the Canal St Martin, a trendy area known for hipsters having picnics along its banks on sunny days.

France, which has received far fewer asylum seekers over the past years than neighboring Germany, has nevertheless been struggling with tackling new arrivals – for years in what became know as the Calais “jungle”, on the northern coast, and, since that was shut down, increasingly in Paris.

“If this situation continues, there will be other dramas, there will inevitably be deaths. And therefore I call on the public authorities to act, and give shelter to the people who are there,” said Pierre Henry, the director of the France Terre d’Asile charity.

Some bathe in the canal’s unsanitary waters, while the mobile phones and subsidies handed out by authorities to some of the asylum seekers are the target of attacks, with knives used as weapons to obtain them, said charity volunteer Pauline Doyen.

Pauline, a volunteer speaks to migrants near the truck where humanitarian association France Terre d'Asile works on the Quai de Jemmapes of the canal Saint-Martin in Paris, France, May 15, 2018. Picture taken May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Pauline, a volunteer speaks to migrants near the truck where humanitarian association France Terre d’Asile works on the Quai de Jemmapes of the canal Saint-Martin in Paris, France, May 15, 2018. Picture taken May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

“There is too much crazy people. I see, look, this is my face. I fight yesterday here,” a 24-year-old Pakistani man, who gave his name as Suleiman, said in broken English .

“I am new,” Suleiman said, showing a trace of blow on his cheek which he says he sustained trying to stop people stealing his belongings. “People take my phone, I have 300 euros, it is taken.”

The Paris municipality and government disagree on how to tackle the situation and blame each other for it, drawing criticism from charities.

In a letter to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe last week, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo spoke of the “chaos (that) now characterizes the campments”, asking the government for action.

An Interior ministry source described the relations between the municipality and the government as “complex” and said Hidalgo was blocking their plans to evacuate the camp. In her letter Hidalgo confirmed she thought the government’s evacuation plan was not the right solution.

(Additional reporting by Feyi Adegbite; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alison Williams)

Greece starts moving migrants camped at border to state facilities

A refugee and a child warm themselves next to a bonfire next to tents set next to a gas station near the village of Idomeni

By Phoebe Fronista and Fedja Grulovic

IDOMENI, Greece (Reuters) – Greek police on Tuesday started moving some of the 8,000 migrants and refugees stranded in a makeshift camp on the sealed northern border with Macedonia to state-run facilities further south.

Several busloads of people, most of them families with children, left the sprawling expanse of tents at Idomeni early on Tuesday and about a dozen more buses were lined up ready to take more, Reuters witnesses said.

At the latest tally, about 8,200 people were camped at Idomeni. At one point more than 12,000 lived there after several Balkan countries shut their borders in February, barring migrants and refugees from central and northern Europe.

Greek authorities said they planned to move individuals gradually to state-supervised facilities further south which currently have capacity of about 5,000 people. The operation is expected to last several days.

“The evacuation is progressing without any problem,” said Giorgos Kyritsis, a government spokesman for the migrant crisis. People would be relocated “ideally by the end of the week,” he said. “We haven’t put a strict deadline on it.”

A Reuters witness on the Macedonian side of the border said there was a heavy police presence in the area but no problems were reported as people with young children packed up huge bags with their belongings.

Media on the Greek side of the border were kept at a distance. Inside the Idomeni camp, police in riot gear stood guard as people from the camp boarded the buses, footage by the state broadcaster ERT showed. Some 1,100 refugees and migrants had been relocated by noon, Greek police said.

A police official said about 1,000 people were blocking the sole railway tracks linking Greece and Macedonia. Protesters demanding passage to northern Europe have for weeks blocked the route, forcing trains to divert through Bulgaria to the east. Some goods wagons have been stranded on the tracks for weeks.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) urged Greece to refrain from using force during the transfer of the migrants and refugees.

“It’s important that organised movements are voluntary, non-discriminatory and based on well-informed choices by the individuals,” spokesman Adrian Edwards told a briefing in Geneva.

International charity Save the Children said it was concerned about a lack of basic services such as bathrooms and shelters in the official camps.

“Many of the children, especially lone children, have been through enough trauma already,” said Amy Frost, team leader in Greece.

“Now that the evacuation has started, it is paramount that authorities make it a priority to keep families together, and to ensure that children are being transferred to facilities where they can live in conditions that meet European and international standards for child welfare,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou in ATHENS and Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA; Writing by Michele Kambas and Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Norwegian Youth Camp Attacked by Terrorist Reopens

A Norwegian youth camp where terrorist Anders Behring-Breivik killed 69 people four years ago has reopened.

“It’s good to be home again at Utoya,” the president of the Labor Party youth organization, Mani Hussaini, told a crowd sitting on a hill.

The camp’s organizer told media outlets before the opening they will not allow “that dark day to overshadow the nice and bright” memories of the camp.

The island is owned by the political party and is used every year for youth camps where the students learn about the party’s beliefs and values.  Breivik, who said at his trial he considered the youths at the camp traitors to Norway, took a ferry to the island dressed as a police officer and then began his massacre.

“To have the summer camp here again with all the tents reminds me a lot of walking here together with the friends who are not here anymore,” said Runar Kjellstad Nygaard, 23, who had left the camp just before the murders.

“It was actually the plan to stay and sleep here, but then I dropped it because they warned of bad weather,” he explained.  “I’m very happy for that today, but it is a very strange feeling to sit at home and get text messages from your best friend saying ‘things are happening out here’”.

Memorials have been placed on the island with the names of most of the victims of the attack.  The assault was the worst killing spree in the country since World War Two.  Breivik had also set off a car bomb in a nearby city earlier in the day, killing eight people.