Idomeni refugee camp: Europe’s ‘catastrophe’

Macedonia, among other countries, is "compliant" in the "catastrophe" that is the Idomeni refugee camp. [Freedom House/Flickr]

12,000 refugees remain in limbo in the Greek border town of Idomeni. Karl Kopp, of German immigration organisation Pro Asyl, told EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel that they need a political and humanitarian situation.

Karl Kopp is Pro Asyl’s European spokesperson.

Kopp was interviewed by Tagesspiegel’s Matthias Meisner

A comprehensive European solution to the refugee crisis is still missing, 12,000 people still wait on the Greek border at Idomeni. Should we expect those refugees to remain hopeful about the situation?

Yes, we still have to instill hope in them. Even if there is no prospect that the Balkan route will be reopened. Every day and every night, more people are turned away from the Macedonian border. The entire Balkan route is a human rights-free zone. But the refugees should not lose hope that legal ways remain to escape the humanitarian catasrophe that is Idomeni, as well as other locations such as Piraeus. We have to find a political and humantarian solution for the people that are stranded in Greece. Defensive measures only help the people traffickers.

Several German politicians have raised expectations: Green Party group leader Simone Peter said that Germany must “single-handedly” take necessary action to accomodate the Idomeni refugees and Thuringia’s Minister President, Bodo Ramelow, has said that his region is willing to take in 2,000 people.

It’s good that these attitudes have come to the fore. Those responsible for closing the Balkan route want the terrible pictures coming out of Idomeni to deter more refugees. They’re compliant in this catastrophe.

Austrian Foreign Affairs Minister Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP), for example, differs little, in terms of asylum policy, from Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán. Others are relying on the Turks to provide a solution. As there is no longer a coalition of the willing in Europe, we have to consider other possibilities.

The communities of Barcelona and Valencia have already made offers to take refugees from Greece. Tiny Portugal has said it is ready to take 10,000. Germany must help as well, by opening up legal ways for Idomeni refugees to get out of there, away from the wretched conditions they find themselves in. All of us in Europe need to form a new coalition of the willing.

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Pictures have emerged from the camps of the squalid conditions people are forced to live in. Would certain European governments actually welcome such images, as they could dissuade more people from coming here?

This is the misconception held by many hardliners in Europe that operate cynical asylum policies: that such ugly images will act as a deterrent. But just because the conditions are awful, doesn’t mean the world’s crises are going to be solved and it certainly doesn’t mean people are going to be put off coming here.

On the other side of the Aegean and Mediterranean, the humanitarian situation is so dramatic, there is so much conflict and so much suffering, that people will flock here for protection regardless. Europe holds the fate of these people in its hands. They are not going to be dissuaded by these pictures. The idea of deterring people is not going to work, it is just going to cause more suffering with no end in sight.

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Conversely, there are accusations that refugee activists are stirring up tensions. There have been false rumours in the Idomeni camp that the border will be reopened or that the camp will be evacuated soon. What are your thoughts on this?

We don’t know who started those rumours. But it has to be said, from the island of Kos to Central Europe, activists and volunteers have provided invaluable help. Without their contribution many people would have gone hungry, would have had no access to medical care and the whole system would probably have collapsed.

Of course, people in a desperate situation should not be fed half-baked, useless information. That is not in keeping with the principles of how we provide aid to refugees.

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Athens wants the situation in Idomeni to be resolved and the refugees to be moved to better organised camps. Would you advise the people in the camp to listen to the authorities?

In this difficult situation, we can’t advise the refugees on this matter. The so-called alternative camps are no better and poor conditions are the reality there too. The asylum seekers do not receive any useful information from the Greeks while they are in transit.

Therefore, it is very difficult for refugees to follow the advice of the German Chancellor when she says they should trust the recommendations of the Greek government and that maybe they should seek alternative places to stay. But they are not tourists with cash to spend!

Their “alternatives” are just alternative forms of homelessness. Over 60% of the refugees are women and children. There are thousands of unaccompanied children in Greece. Many of them are being held in police cells due to lack of accommodation.





This interview was also published by EURACTIV Germany.

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