Hundreds of refugees residing in Greece left in the last four days the infamous hotspots, mainlands’ camps, IOM-hotels and ESTIA flats, the refugees squats and other places they were temporarily staying, taking down to the streets in what they called ‘march of hope’. They headed to the North of Greece, first towards Ioannena and then in the direction of Thessaloniki using busses, trains or even walking with the aim to leave Greece, finally. They reported of feeling entrapped in a hopeless situation with asylum interviews dated up to 2024 and with no future prospects, while many kids were not even able to go to school and they were facing difficult and provisory living conditions.
In the last three days, bigger groups from different places tried to move to the border aiming to reach it at the dates announced by social media of 4 and 5 of April. Until that point mainstream media had not followed-up on the movement. Meanwhile, UNHCR and IOM have been since weeks, when the idea spread in social media, warning refugees to not follow the false rumors about an opening of the borders on these dates. Only recently, the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy also declared that borders would remain closed and that there was a fake news spreading.
Despite the warnings by the authorities, IGOs and NGOs, refugees from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan mainly continued following their hope and reached Diavata camp at the outskirts of Thessaloniki – among them are also families with kids. Many others were blocked by police, their busses were stopped and trains halted and they had to return back. Hundreds of refugees, awaiting the train to Thessaloniki on Thursday night, were forced to leave the Athens railway station the next day.
Around 1.000 refugees are camping now since three days on a field outside of Diavata and have not been allowed to continue their journey towards the border. Repeated attempts to move beyond the police blockade got forcibly stopped and small clashes have erupted again and again for a third day in row. Not willing to give up, they decided to spend one more night in their little summer tents, despite rainfalls, cold, hunger and thirst.
In the morning hours the regional coordinator for Northern Greece and Epirus of the Migration Policy Ministry, Nikos Rangos, tried to talk people into the busses organised by IOM, saying that he didn’t want them to loose their rights in this dead end situation that might end in violence but surely not in the opening of the borders. One of the women who had a day earlier tried to brake the riot police blockade with their mere hands, replied: “We have nowhere to go back!”
With the conditions outside of Diavata getting harder throughout the days, and after todays extensive tear-gas use, which also newborns, many bigger kids but also adults suffered from, at least 300 refugees today decided to return to their shelters. “The alternative solution we can offer from the Ministry,” Mr. Rangos stated to a Kurdish TV Channel, “is to return back to their containers, to their camps or hotels and let their Cash-Cards get recharged”.
What gets forgotten in the whole discussion around “fake news” or “false rumors” and the search for the organizers of the march, is that, hundreds of refugees took a decision to participate in this and try to get out of Greece, however initiated, in order to flee the misery and improve their families’ situation. The containment policy Greece is upholding by any means and under the pressure of the EU, paired with a mere emergency approach to reception and an overloaded asylum system inspired fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers to find a better solution for their kids, to seek for more than “being kept alive”, to follow their hope…
Update 07.04.2019: Busses have been taking people from the informal tent camp outside of Diavata back to their official shelters all through the night. 874 persons had left at 5am already with another approx. 50 remaining in the small tents. Mr. Rangos told media outlets, that until Monday the informal tent camp will have disappeared.