Greece: Involuntary Eviction from Idomeni Creates Further Hardships for Refugees

ATHENS, GREECE/NEW YORK, MAY 26, 2016—As Greek authorities evict thousands of refugees from a camp in Idomeni, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounces the involuntary nature of the eviction, the lack of information provided to refugees and the restrictions on humanitarian assistance during this process.

MSF calls on the Greek authorities to ensure that adequate and continuous assistance is guaranteed during the movement of people and in their new locations.

“Let’s be clear, this cannot be considered a voluntary relocation as these people had no other choice, did not have adequate information and assistance in the camp was drastically cut,” said Loïc Jaeger, MSF’s head of mission in Greece. “It is unacceptable to force this move on the resigned and desperate people of Idomeni.”

Thousands of migrants and refugees have been trapped for months in Idomeni, on Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, due to border restrictions. MSF has provided medical services and other humanitarian assistance in the camp since April 2015.

In recent days, MSF’s teams have seen many anxious patients who had been asked to leave without being given clear information about their destination.

“We are worried,” said Siham, a 30-year-old woman from Syria with three children in the Idomeni camp. “We don’t know where we will be taken. We are told we will find out when we get off the bus at the new camp.”

Read Siham's Story: "I'm Tired of Living in Fear"

MSF’s patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes and epilepsy are worried about the risk of interruption to their care and uncertain about what medical facilities will be available when they move. During the eviction process, MSF had difficulty referring patients for hospitalization, as those who leave the camp do not have permission to return and a referral could separate them from their families.

“People are not being informed of where they are going and this is far from acceptable,” said Michele Telaro, MSF’s project coordinator in Idomeni. “They have already fled conflicts and violence and spent more than two months in unacceptable conditions in Idomeni. The alternative to the inhumane should not be the unknown and the uncertain.”

As the eviction process started on May 24, MSF and other aid organizations had restricted access to the camp area, with a reduced number of staff allowed to enter, while volunteers were completely expelled from the camp. In these conditions, basic services like sanitation and distribution of food could not be assured.

Many patients at the MSF clinic in Idomeni this week were in tears, due to the stress and uncertainty of their situation.

Voices from Idomeni: “We Came Here Because Europe is Supposed to be Civilized”

“We would like to tell them they will be able to join their families in Europe, that they will have access to adequate protection, but we can’t. We can’t even reassure them about the conditions they will find in the new camps,” Jaeger said. “Moving refugees from informal camps to formal camps is not the solution. In Europe in 2016, refugees should not be living in tents. they should have their claims for asylum heard and be provided with homes so that they can restart their lives in safety.”

Since the beginning of its intervention in Idomeni, MSF has carried out more than 38,000 medical consultations, distributed relief items and provided shelter and water and sanitation.

On the 24th of May, the Greek police started to evacuate the camp of Idomeni, a transit camp where thousands of refugees have been stranded for over two months without adequate humanitarian assistance and with no access to asylum procedures. In the first hours of the morning, several hundred riot police started to slowly fill buses with the first groups of people to leave. According to Greek authorities at least 37 buses carrying more than 1780 people were evacuated in the first 12 hours. The situation is currently calm and whilst volunteers have been prevented from accessing the camp, MSF still has restricted access and continues to carry out our medical activities with a reduced team of 8 people (medical and deputy fieldco). MSF is not opposed to the movement of people from Idomeni to other locations, if they will be provided with better conditions, and if this is done on a voluntary basis by providing the refugees with sufficient information about the destination so they can take an informed decision. MSF asks the authorities to ensure that volunteers and NGOs are allowed to continue to access the people living at Idomeni camp for as long as they are there.