IDOMENI, Greece: A plan to send back migrants from Greece to Turkey sparked demonstrations by local residents in both countries Saturday, two days before the deal brokered by the European Union is set to be implemented.
At the same time, migrants stranded at a makeshift camp in this small town on Greece’s border with Macedonia staged a protest demanding that the border be opened and that they be allowed to continue their journeys to central and northern Europe.
The migrants’ continued presence led several dozen local residents to stage a protest Saturday morning. They blocked a road for about an hour to demand the evacuation of more than 11,000 stranded migrants to “transit centers” across the Greek mainland.
“The police know what they must do … they must be issued orders,” said Georgios Georgantas, a lawmaker with the conservative opposition New Democracy party, who joined the protesters. He called for the “immediate” evacuation of the Idomeni camp “using violence, if necessary.”
Idomeni residents alleged that some migrants had broken into empty homes in the town and said they no longer felt safe.
In the coastal Turkish town of Dikili, hundreds demonstrated against the prospect of hosting people expelled from the nearby Greek islands, especially Chios and Lesbos, where there were over 5,000 migrants on Saturday morning.
Turkey is due to receive the first batch of returned migrants and asylum seekers on Monday. A plan to build a reception center in Dikili is unpopular with locals.
“We definitely don’t want a refugee camp in Dikili,” said the town’s mayor, Mustafa Tosun.
Demonstrators expressed concern over the impact the EU deal could have on the economy, tourism and security in their town.
The EU-Turkey deal stipulates that those who reach the shores of Greece unlawfully will be returned to Turkey unless they qualify for asylum. The deal aims to break the lucrative smuggling operations that now operate out Turkey.
In Idomeni, more than 200 refugees and migrants staged a protest on a highway linking Greece and Macedonia, demanding that Macedonia open its borders. The protesters blocked trucks from crossing into Macedonia, but not passenger vehicles. In a counter-protest, the truckers blocked the road to other vehicles as well.
Near the camp itself, some migrants have camped on the rail tracks, blocking passenger and cargo traffic for the 13th day in a row.
Quite a few migrants, including war refugees from Syria and Iraq, are still hoping that Macedonia, and other Balkan countries to its north, will open their borders. There are rumors circulating in the camp that a “European summit” on Monday will decide to open the borders, but no such summit is scheduled.
But many others are giving up hope. Among them is Muthanna al Hashemy, 36, a refugee from Iraq, who has been waiting for 43 days, along with his wife and two boys, aged 4 and 6. He is getting desperate.
“I do not know what to do. The only solution is to return to my country. Here, the situation is worse than the war…They want us to go to the (transit centers) where it is worse than here. I no longer have any money,” he says, adding that he spent “over 2,500 euros” ($2,800) to get to Idomeni. Still, a glimmer of hope persists.
“I will wait until Monday, see what happens and then return to my country,” he said.