Greek PM urges refugees to choose relocation process over risky illegal crossings into FYROM

Source:Xinhua Published: 2016-3-16 7:00:03

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday urged refugees and migrants stranded in Greece to choose the safe legal relocation program in hospitality centers across the country rather than the illegal risky river crossings into neighboring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

On Monday, about 1,000 people, including children, left the muddy, overcrowded makeshift camp at the border crossing of Idomeni and entered FYROM through an unfenced and unguarded dangerous stream five km further.

Referring to Monday's incident, Tsipras made a fresh appeal to the more than 12,000 people who have remained in Idomeni for weeks after the gradual borders closures along the Balkan route to central Europe. He advised them to agree to be transferred to hosting facilities in order to receive adequate aid from the Greek state before their relocation to other European countries under an EU program launched last year.

However, most of the refugees insist on staying close to the border in the hope that it may reopen soon. Many believe that EU leaders gathering in Brussels on March 17 to 18 may reach a decision for the overnight lifting of restrictions, refugees at the Idomeni tent city told Xinhua on Tuesday.

Others have started to realize that the borders will most likely remain closed and are considering the relocation option.

"Interest in the relocation program is certainly picking up as people come to realize that this might be a good solution for them," Babar Baloch, the UNHCR head in Idomeni told Xinhua on Tuesday.

"The borders will not open again soon," the Greek leader underlined on Tuesday, suggesting refugees ignore the rumors and "criminals" misinforming and encouraging them to risk their lives to cross rivers illegally to enter FYROM only to be sent back to Greece.

Tsipras pointed to leaflets distributed at Idomeni during the weekend urging refugees to cross into FYROM from a swelling stream near Chamilo village.

Greek police are conducting an investigation to trace the individuals or group responsible for the pamphlet. According to police sources, Greek authorities suspect smugglers or "irresponsible people who pose as volunteers."

Some 40 volunteers along with 30 photo journalists were detained by FYROM authorities on Monday after crossing the stream alongside the refugees. While most of them have been released after paying a 260-euro (289 US dollar) fine, according to the Greek side. However, it was still unclear on Tuesday afternoon where the refugees who crossed into FYROM ended up.

Greek state officials have not confirmed media reports that hundreds of refugees have been sent back to Greece by FYROM authorities informally through similar unfenced border crossings over the past few hours.

Athens is still waiting for Skopje to submit a formal request for the return of the refugees Yorgos Kyritsis, the spokesman of Greece's Refugees Crisis Management Mechanism body told Greek MEGA television channel on Tuesday.

"We cannot confirm nor deny whether they have been returned," deputy defense minister Dimitris Vitsas told local SKAI radio.

During a visit to Idomeni on Tuesday, European Commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, reaffirmed "EU's solidarity and support to Greece in coping with the refugee crisis and the resulting humanitarian crisis."

The unacceptable living conditions at Idomeni where refugees sleep in rain-soaked tents, relying on aid provided by NGOs for food and medical care must stop, he said.

Avramopoulos called on EU member states to honor their commitments regarding the relocation of some 65,000 refugees across the EU over the next two years with no further delay. So far, less than 1,000 have been relocated, according to official data.

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