Greece’s borders to any other country will not reopen, government ministers have said in response to sit-in protests staged by hundreds of refugees and migrants in Athens and northern Greece.
Some 500 people, among them families with children, have camped since Thursday afternoon outside the refugee reception facility of Diavata community, at the outskirts of Thessaloniki port city and about 60 kilometers from the Idomeni border crossing into North Macedonia.
Protesters briefly clashed with policemen, who fired tear gas. Protesters demanded the reopening of the border to continue their journey to central Europe, Greek national news agency AMNA reported. A policeman was slightly injured and two protesters have been detained.
Over 200 migrants and refugees started on Friday a sit-in protest on the tracks of the central railway station of Athens, demanding to be allowed to travel to northern Greece to also reach the borders. Train services have been suspended until further notice.
The protests were launched after rumors circulating in social media among migrants and refugees who live in Greece that if they move en masse to the borders, the crossings will open, AMNA noted.
Protesters should not risk the privileges they have and should not use their children as shields, because some traffickers have sold them false hopes, Minister of Citizen Protection Olga Gerovassili said in an interview with local News 24/7 radio station.
She voiced confidence that gradually they will be persuaded to return to the facilities where they are housed, stressing that they will not be allowed to leave Diavata or the train station to northern Greece and the “borders are not opening to any other country”.
The refugees and migrants have fallen “victims of misinformation”, Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas told AMNA.
The ministry has made a joint appeal with the UN High Commission for Refugees that has issued an announcement in six languages, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other international organizations stating that all they have heard are lies, he said, underlining that the borders will remain firmly closed.
As third country nationals that have applied for asylum, seeking international protection, protesters have their rights, but they also have obligations and one of the most basic obligations, which derive from the Geneva Convention and other international treaties, is that they must respect the laws of the state that has given them shelter, the Greek official said, expressing hope that the protests will end in coming hours.
“They should realize that this attempt is leading nowhere and is undermining their own future,” Miltiadis Klapas, General Secretary at the Ministry of Migration Policy told Xinhua, after his visit to the railway station to talk to protesters.
“We can’t stay longer in Greece. We came to the decision that we want to go to Thessaloniki and find a way how we can talk with the government of Athens. We are not here for fun or something else. We are running from problems from our countries,” Abdulkarim, an Iraqi refugee, told Xinhua.
Greece cannot provide adequate aid to all refugees and migrants, he said, asking that they be allowed to continue their journey to other European countries.
More than one million people have reached Greece and travelled to central and northern Europe from early 2015 until the winter of 2016 when the Balkan route closed.
Tens of thousands remained for months at a make shift camp set up next to the Idomeni border crossing in dire conditions, until late May 2016, when it was evacuated, and people were relocated to various facilities.
Despite the dramatic drop in numbers of new arrivals to Greece after the spring of 2016, dozens of people on a daily basis keep risking their lives to reach Greece from Turkey, hoping for a better future in Europe away from war-stricken zones and extreme poverty.
Almost 70,000 have been stranded in Greece since 2016, according to the Greek Migration Policy ministry.