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Greece-Macedonia border closure: refugee families risk river crossing

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Save the Children at the Greece-Macedonia border: families with nothing to lose risk river crossing

Save the Children worked through the night on Monday to deliver blankets and warm clothes to thousands of refugees and migrants in Greece and Macedonia who had been left stranded after attempting to leave the camp at Idomeni and cross the border.

Appalling conditions at the Idomeni camp, where families have been stuck for weeks after the border was arbitrarily closed, and a lack of other options pushed up to 4,000 people to try to cross a river to reach the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Families packed up whatever they could carry and waded across the fast-flowing river, carrying young children on their backs.

The authorities started sending people back in trucks to Greece late at night, dropping children off shivering, wet and disorientated back over the border. After travelling all day, they were left to walk back to Idomeni camp in the middle of the night. Some people collapsed by the roadside and needed medical attention on the tarmac and those that made it back to the camp faced a night out in the open, with rain starting to fall at around 4.30am. Up to 600 people remained stuck on the other side of the river

Tanya Steele from Save the Children said: “After weeks waiting in increasingly appalling conditions on the border, families have been left feeling they have nothing left to lose. They would rather brave a river crossing on a cold evening on the way to an uncertain future, than wait in limbo to potentially be sent back across the Aegean sea.

“The scenes we saw last night were shocking and are a direct reaction to the wholly inadequate response of European leaders to this crisis, which treats people like bargaining chips and leaves them stranded with no safe plan for their future. The European migration plan that is currently on the table is pushing children to seek alternative, more dangerous routes to reach safety, making them an easy prey for smugglers and traffickers.”

Save the Children is calling on European leaders to make legal routes for those seeking asylum, including family reunification, the core pillar of any European response to the crisis. Refugees, many of whom have fled the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have the right to have their requests for asylum evaluated on an individual basis, while mass returns often deny those individual rights.

Save the Children runs a child friendly space and mother and baby area in Idomeni, and has provided thousands of winter jackets, blankets and rainproof jackets to children and families at the camp. We have also distributed more than 16,000 meals consisting of rice porridge and fruit to children, and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in the last week.

For interviews in Greece, contact Caroline Anning on +447752 825 077 or c.anning@savethechildren.org.uk / for more information, contact the Save the Children press office on 0207 012 6841 or media@savethechildren.org.uk

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