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Women struggle to survive Greece’s notorious refugee camp

Women stranded as refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos face daily violence, never-ending asylum procedures and horrible living conditions. DW's Marianna Karakoulaki spoke with some of them about their experiences. Amal, a young woman in her 20s, and her family fled the ongoing conflict at home in Yemen as well as limited opportunities for women. After a treacherous journey across the Aegean she arrived at Lesbos. Here she thought she would finally find the freedom she was looking for. Instead she was taken to Moria, Greece's largest refugee camp, which resembles an open-air prison. She describes it as hell on earth. Moria has been in the international spotlight repeatedly because of the dreadful circumstances. More than 7,000 people live in an area built for 3,100. High walls and a barbed-wire fence separate the main camp site from the tent city that spreads around it. The living conditions do not meet international standards and are not adequate for thousands of residents. People have to wait in lines for hours to receive their meals; the restrooms and showers are unhygienic; sewage water runs constantly through the camp to the road in front. Violence seems to have become the new normal, and people struggle to carry out every day activities. A recent report by Amnesty International on women and girls in Greek refugee camps describes how the severe overcrowding can be especially threatening to women. Indeed, living in Moria is even worse for women than it is for men. 'Better off dead' Amal recounts in vivid detail how she witnessed a man beating a woman until she bled. The assault took place in front of Greek police who ignored it and later blamed the woman for 'hanging out with such men.' "The situation in Moria is unfair for women," Amal says. Her portrayal of daily life at the camp is striking. Even simple tasks such as going to the restroom can be dangerous. Although men are not allowed near the women's restrooms, they are always there, she says. One of her friends was recently harassed by an older man at the women's restrooms. She managed to run away before anything worse happened. "Sometimes I think it would have been better to have died in the sea rather than be in this place," Amal says. "As a feminist I learned that I should not be afraid of anything. But I am afraid of never leaving this place," she continues. This fear is the reason why Amal would prefer to be anonymous. She has heard rumors that if refugees say something negative about the camp, their asylum cases may be affected. That fear was shared by every person living in Moria who spoke to DW. "Being a feminist and a refugee at the same time is extremely hard. We have so many words to say during our asylum interview, but we have to keep quiet, because we want to leave here," Amal says. Amal wants to follow in the footsteps of her role model, Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi, who defied patriarchal norms in her country and achieved her goals thanks to her education. Fix patriarchy and you fix everything Somayeh, who comes from Afghanistan, struggles to find something positive to say about Moria. She's thankful that she no longer lives there but in PIKPA, a self-organized camp for vulnerable refugees that is run by volunteers. Life in Moria was extremely difficult not only because of unhygienic conditions and long food lines but also because of the continuous violence in the camp When Somayeh speaks of her experiences as an Afghan woman her voice trembles even as she spits fire. She was a student at university before she got married, when her husband forced her to quit her studies. "Afghanistan is the country where the power is in the hands of the man. We can't work for women's rights there. I want equality but how can I face all men? I fight a lot for women, but I struggle for my [own] life," she says. Somayeh was a women's rights activist at home, neither an easy or safe task in such a patriarchal society. She firmly believes that women are not given many opportunities anywhere. Refugee women have even fewer. But to her, the solution to the problems displaced women in Europe face is not very complicated. "Europe needs to give women refugees knowledge; they need to educate them about women's rights. This will give them self-confidence. But they also need to provide them with safety," she says. 'Treat people as human beings' Even Kumi Naidoo, surely inured to sights such as Moria as a world-renowned activist and head of Amnesty International, was shocked by what he saw at the camp during a visit earlier this month. He was astonished by the women's strength in such a horrible situation, he told DW, and underlined a specific need to focus on women refugees. "Women suffer more vulnerabilities; just based on the reality of the amount of sexual harassment and sexual violence that, sadly, women, especially from poor communities, face. On the other side, the resilience of the women — just to be able to survive, to keep a smile on their face and look for solutions to sort things out — takes emotional and spiritual resilience on a very high level," he told DW. Amal is one of those survivors. "My life is in the bottom of a lake in Iran, where I lost all of my documents," she says. But she has not let that stop her. Once she is granted asylum in Greece she plans to return to Moria to help other women refugees find the strength to fight inequality. Just as her feminist role models have done in the past. * Some quotes have been edited for clarity. Refugees' names and details that may identify them or their families have been altered or omitted

Women stranded as refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos face daily violence, never-ending asylum procedures and horrible living conditions. DW’s Marianna Karakoulaki spoke with some of them about their experiences. Amal, a young woman in her 20s, and her family fled the ongoing conflict at home in Yemen as well as limited opportunities for women. After a treacherous journey ... Read More »

Macedonian lawmakers back North Macedonia name change

Macedonian parliamentarians have voted in favor of starting the process to change the country's name to North Macedonia. The name change would clear the path for the country's entry into NATO and possibly the EU. After a delay of more than 10 hours, lawmakers in Macedonia voted 80 to 39 on Friday in favor of the proposal to change the constitution, a key step in accepting the deal struck with neighbor Greece back in June. "The parliament adopted the proposal by the government to start the procedure for changes in the constitution," parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi said after the late-night vote. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev's Social Democratic government had initially struggled to win the necessary support of conservative opposition members. The final vote, however, saw Zaev just achieve the necessary two-thirds majority needed inside the 120-seat house. Some conservative lawmakers accused the government of offering bribes of between €250,000 and €2 million (between $288,000 and $2.3 million) in exchange for votes. Zaev's party denied the allegation and said it would respond with legal action. Zaev had promised to call early elections if the government had lost the vote. Greece dispute close to resolved Zaev and his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, had reached a deal in June calling for Macedonia to change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Athens would in return stop blocking its neighbor from joining NATO and opening EU membership talks. Greece has argued that the name "Macedonia" implied territorial claims to a Greek province of the same name. The name change would end a 27-year dispute that began after Macedonia emerged from the disintegrating Yugoslavia in 1991. Read more: Opinion: Macedonia's bitter lesson Following Friday's vote, Tsipras took to Twitter to congratulate Zaev. "Tonight's vote is a big step towards our common success. A very important step to a peaceful and prosperous future for our people!" the Greek prime minister said. Conservatives in Macedonia vehemently oppose the name change and boycotted a referendum last month on the issue. The referendum failed to reach a turnout hurdle of 50 percent, leaving the issue to parliamentarians to decide. The amendment process must now formally start within the next two weeks. The procedure could be lengthy, however, and requires several votes. Once Macedonia formally changes its constitution, Greece's lawmakers will also have to vote on the deal. It remains unclear whether that will come to pass, however, as several nationalist Greek lawmakers oppose allowing Macedonia to use the name in any form.

Macedonian parliamentarians have voted in favor of starting the process to change the country’s name to North Macedonia. The name change would clear the path for the country’s entry into NATO and possibly the EU. After a delay of more than 10 hours, lawmakers in Macedonia voted 80 to 39 on Friday in favor of the proposal to change the ... Read More »

Greek ministerial couple step down after housing subsidy scandal

Two government ministers have resigned in quick succession after public outcry over a Cabinet housing allowance. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is set to find replacements for the affluent married couple. Greece's economy and development minister has resigned hours after his wife quit as deputy labor minister in response to a housing stipend row. Dimitri Papadimitriou handed in his resignation to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday night "for reasons of political sensitivity," an Economy Ministry official told Reuters news agency. Papdimitriou's wife, Rania Antonopoulou, stepped down after Greek media reported she had accepted a €1,000 ($1,200) monthly housing allowance for an apartment she shared with Papdimitriou in an expensive Athens neighborhood. Read more: Greece secures billions as bailout enters final stages Antonopoulou was eligible to apply for the allowance as a cabinet member whose primary residence was outside of Athens. The couple's main home is in the US, where they had been working as scholars before joining the Greek government in 2015 and 2016. Despite the absence of any wrongdoing, the disclosure sparked national criticism. Greece is recovering from a severe financial crisis and a third of the population lives in poverty. US tax filings from 2015 showed that Antonopoulou owned $340,000 and Papadimitriou around $2.7 million worth of stocks. Read more: Greeks stuck in lousy, part-time jobs as government claims success "It was never my intention to insult the Greek people," Antonopoulou said, adding that she would return around €23,000 drawn from the housing allowance over two years. The government said it would end the housing allowance. Tsipras is also reportedly set to reshuffle his Cabinet on Thursday to fill the two vacant posts. Papadimitriou was responsible for attracting foreign investment to Greece and Antonopoulou worked on reducing unemployment. Read more: Greek firms paying employees with coupons

Two government ministers have resigned in quick succession after public outcry over a Cabinet housing allowance. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is set to find replacements for the affluent married couple. Greece’s economy and development minister has resigned hours after his wife quit as deputy labor minister in response to a housing stipend row. Dimitri Papadimitriou handed in his resignation ... Read More »

Greek terrorist returns to jail, happy and healthy after 2-day leave

Convicted assassin Dimitris Koufodinas' freedom frolic sparked international and domestic outrage. Koufodinas was a member of the radical left-wing November 17 movement that carried out nearly two-dozen murders. A notorious Greek assassin is back behind bars after 48 hours of freedom that sparked international outrage. Dimitris Koufodinas, dubbed the "Poison Hand," returned to the Korydallos prison Saturday morning, 90 minutes ahead of his 12 noon deadline. Accompanied by his wife and son, he appeared relaxed and waved to the media. He said through his lawyer that he used the time outside of jail to reconnect with his family and work on plans for a beekeeing business, which he used as a front during his years as a hit man. The 59-year-old is serving 11 life sentences plus 25 years for his role in 11 of 23 assassinations carried out by the now-defunct extreme left-wing militant group November 17. Read more: A new generation of Greek terrorists The group's presence first became known in late 1975 after they murdered Richard Welch, the CIA's station chief in Athens. British military attache Stephen Saunders was the group's last victim, in 2000. For 25 years the group carried out a series of assassinations that included diplomats and officials from the United States, Great Britain, Turkey and Greece. All three foreign countries condemned Greece for granting Koufodinas the two-day leave. US ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt said it was an insult to victims and their families. "I add my voice to those from across Greece's political spectrum deploring prison council decision to release a convicted terrorist, murderer & N17 leader," Pyatt said on Twitter. In a Greek-language tweet, British ambassador Kate Smith likewise expressed London's "profound disappointment" and added that the embassy "shared" the pain of the victims' families. And the Turkish foreign ministry said the decision had displayed "tolerance to a bloodthirsty terrorist" in "sheer disrespect to the memory of our martyred diplomats." Book was a best seller The November 17 group also targeted Greek officials. The country's opposition parties have slammed the politically left government of current Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for being soft on extremist left-wing militants. They also noted that Koufodinas had never shown remorse. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece's main opposition leader, whose sister's husband was among November 17's victims, said, "I speak as a shocked citizen who is witnessing this country's biggest terrorist, a remorseless murderer, given leave from prison." In 2014, another jailed former November 17 member, Christodoulos Xiros, took advantage of his prison leave to go on the run. He had been planning terrorist attacks when police recaptured him a year later. The liberal daily newspaper Kathimerini said Saturday that Koufodinas was able to secure leave because the Tsipras government had modified a law regarding conditional release. Koufodinas is a former mathematician. He was convicted for the murder of Saunders in addition to the deaths of a US military attache, a US airman and two Turkish diplomats, among others. Koufodinas was arrested in 2002 but not before evading capture for several months by camping out on a secluded beach after other members of the group had been arrested. He subsequently turned himself in. November 17 was named after an anti-junta student uprising. While in prison Koufodinas, wrote a best seller on his life inside the extremist group.

Convicted assassin Dimitris Koufodinas’ freedom frolic sparked international and domestic outrage. Koufodinas was a member of the radical left-wing November 17 movement that carried out nearly two-dozen murders. A notorious Greek assassin is back behind bars after 48 hours of freedom that sparked international outrage. Dimitris Koufodinas, dubbed the “Poison Hand,” returned to the Korydallos prison Saturday morning, 90 minutes ... Read More »

Greek extremists go abroad for training in revolution

From anarchists to nihilists, militant Greek youth are increasingly networking with other global forces of violence. Left unchecked, they risk turning into loose cannons, disregarding all costs, reports Anthee Carassava. Greek extremists are fleeing to Syria to fight against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group, and the surge is stoking concerns among authorities in Athens that a fearless, new-fanged generation of militants could usher a fresh wave of domestic violence here. Although the flight has long been speculated among leading security circles here, concerns mounted recently as local media published pictures showing Greek anarchists fighting alongside the International Revolutionary People's Guerilla Forces in Rojava, near Syria's northern border with Turkey. Read more: Child refugees in Greece sell sex for smugglers' fees Brandishing AK-47s and wearing ski masks with military fatigues, the so-called Greek contingent is seen posing against a brick wall emblazoned with an ominous message: "From Rojava to Athens." In another picture, the extremists feature alongside a French team, part of the so-called 161 crew, warning in a separate banner: "No step back." Authorities contacted by DW said police were examining the pictures published in the Athens daily Eleftheros Typos to detect homegrown extremists evading arrest for years. "There is serious concern about this development and we are on alert as we are in the midst of a flare-up of domestic violence here," said a senior police official. The official refused to elaborate, but security experts said the Rojava recruits risked returning back to Greece with an updated cause. Worst yet, they could return with more dangerous means and methods to upgrade their long-standing fight to subvert the state. "There is a growing networking among violent anti-establishment forces," says Mary Bossi, professor of international security in Pireaus University. "The recruitment is extremely rigorous because unlike traditional terror groups of the past, these groups are open - posting, recruiting and spreading their messages freely," she explains. Regular attacks In a recent interview, a leading IRPGF member said the Rojava movement was bent on fighting IS. But its purpose, he explained, was also to "train [anarchists with] both guerilla and conventional warfare for their respective struggles back home and to gain experience in how a revolution functions on a social level." Greek anarchists are the latest to join in the Rojava movement since Amir Taaki, an Iranian-British Bitcoin coder, set out to Syria's northern border to fight against IS. For Greece, though, the stakes are high. Any revival of violence here could erase gains made after the successful bust up of November 17, a deadly terror group that evaded arrest for more than two decades. It could also add to lingering financial woes that have already dealt a devastating blow to Greek society. Experts are concerned. About 480 extremist groups, ranging from far-left anarchists to self-proclaimed nihilists, have emerged since the breakup of November 17, targeting symbols of wealth and the state as Greeks grapple with seven years of brutal austerity. With two to three militant groupings claiming responsibility for mainly low-grade attacks that rattle the country almost daily, a resurging tide of domestic terror is swelling, intelligence officials concede. "I don't want to think of the warfare these recruits in Rojava are going to bring back home and the situation that will transpire," said a senior intelligence official. Experts warn of deaths to come In recent weeks, conservative lawmakers and security experts have urged action, accusing authorities of not doing enough to crush a new generation of extremists feeding on resentment of the country's feckless political elite and seven years of austerity measures prescribed by Western monetary institutions. "Any state that wants to do away with its homegrown extremists, can do so," Bossi told DW. "Greece has both the technology and resources for the task. "Unfortunately, though, amateurism is at play. "Once an attack happens authorities scramble with crackdowns for a few days and then interest in addressing the real causes of the violence fade." Last week, and in a major escalation of violence, homegrown terrorists attacked former Prime Minister Lucas Papademos as he was being driven home, in Athens. Two members of his security entourage were also injured as the former central bank governor opened a booby-trapped envelope in his car, suffering major injuries from shrapnel that darted into his chest, groin and stomach as a result of the powerful explosion. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but the hit bears the hallmarks of a homegrown militant anti-authority group of anarchists called the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fires. Known also for posting a similar parcel of explosives to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble earlier this year, the small band of extremists has rapidly evolved into an urban guerilla force, upgrading its attacks from crude pressure-cooker bombs to more sophisticated explosives in recent years. Even so, Greece's new vintage of extremists remain dangerously reckless. Unlike the careful and calculating tactics used by older terror groups, their pursuit of disrupting and destabilizing the state comes at a high cost. Worse yet, any deployment of militarized techniques in upcoming attacks risks turning them into volatile loose canons, plunging Greece into a new reign of deadly terror. "Their complete disregard for any collateral damage is alarming," Bossi says. "That alone should have authorities on extra alert, trying to bust them up before it's too late. "Left unchecked," she warns, "any future hits are bound to come with a kill."

From anarchists to nihilists, militant Greek youth are increasingly networking with other global forces of violence. Left unchecked, they risk turning into loose cannons, disregarding all costs, reports Anthee Carassava. Greek extremists are fleeing to Syria to fight against the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) group, and the surge is stoking concerns among authorities in Athens that a fearless, new-fanged generation ... Read More »

Greek extremists go abroad for training in revolution

From anarchists to nihilists, militant Greek youth are increasingly networking with other global forces of violence. Left unchecked, they risk turning into loose cannons, disregarding all costs, reports Anthee Carassava. Greek extremists are fleeing to Syria to fight against the "Islamic State" group, and the surge is stoking concerns among authorities in Athens that a fearless, new-fanged generation of militants could usher a fresh wave of domestic violence here. Although the flight has long been speculated among leading security circles here, concerns mounted recently as local media published pictures showing Greek anarchists fighting alongside the International Revolutionary People's Guerilla Forces in Rojava, near Syria's northern border with Turkey. Read more: Child refugees in Greece sell sex for smugglers' fees Brandishing AK-47s and wearing ski masks with military fatigues, the so-called Greek contingent is seen posing against a brick wall emblazoned with an ominous message: "From Rojava to Athens." In another picture, the extremists feature alongside a French team, part of the so-called 161 crew, warning in a separate banner: "No step back." Authorities contacted by DW said police were examining the pictures published in the Athens daily Eleftheros Typos to detect homegrown extremists evading arrest for years. "There is serious concern about this development and we are on alert as we are in the midst of a flare-up of domestic violence here," said a senior police official. The official refused to elaborate, but security experts said the Rojava recruits risked returning back to Greece with an updated cause. Worst yet, they could return with more dangerous means and methods to upgrade their long-standing fight to subvert the state. "There is a growing networking among violent anti-establishment forces," says Mary Bossi, professor of international security in Pireaus University. "The recruitment is extremely rigorous because unlike traditional terror groups of the past, these groups are open - posting, recruiting and spreading their messages freely," she explains. Regular attacks In a recent interview, a leading IRPGF member said the Rojava movement was bent on fighting IS. But its purpose, he explained, was also to "train [anarchists with] both guerilla and conventional warfare for their respective struggles back home and to gain experience in how a revolution functions on a social level." Greek anarchists are the latest to join in the Rojava movement since Amir Taaki, an Iranian-British Bitcoin coder, set out to Syria's northern border to fight against IS. For Greece, though, the stakes are high. Any revival of violence here could erase gains made after the successful bust up of November 17, a deadly terror group that evaded arrest for more than two decades. It could also add to lingering financial woes that have already dealt a devastating blow to Greek society. Experts are concerned. About 480 extremist groups, ranging from far-left anarchists to self-proclaimed nihilists, have emerged since the breakup of November 17, targeting symbols of wealth and the state as Greeks grapple with seven years of brutal austerity. With two to three militant groupings claiming responsibility for mainly low-grade attacks that rattle the country almost daily, a resurging tide of domestic terror is swelling, intelligence officials concede. "I don't want to think of the warfare these recruits in Rojava are going to bring back home and the situation that will transpire," said a senior intelligence official. Experts warn of deaths to come In recent weeks, conservative lawmakers and security experts have urged action, accusing authorities of not doing enough to crush a new generation of extremists feeding on resentment of the country's feckless political elite and seven years of austerity measures prescribed by Western monetary institutions. "Any state that wants to do away with its homegrown extremists, can do so," Bossi told DW. "Greece has both the technology and resources for the task. "Unfortunately, though, amateurism is at play. "Once an attack happens authorities scramble with crackdowns for a few days and then interest in addressing the real causes of the violence fade." Last week, and in a major escalation of violence, homegrown terrorists attacked former Prime Minister Lucas Papademos as he was being driven home, in Athens. Two members of his security entourage were also injured as the former central bank governor opened a booby-trapped envelope in his car, suffering major injuries from shrapnel that darted into his chest, groin and stomach as a result of the powerful explosion. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but the hit bears the hallmarks of a homegrown militant anti-authority group of anarchists called the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fires. Known also for posting a similar parcel of explosives to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble earlier this year, the small band of extremists has rapidly evolved into an urban guerilla force, upgrading its attacks from crude pressure-cooker bombs to more sophisticated explosives in recent years. Even so, Greece's new vintage of extremists remain dangerously reckless. Unlike the careful and calculating tactics used by older terror groups, their pursuit of disrupting and destabilizing the state comes at a high cost. Worse yet, any deployment of militarized techniques in upcoming attacks risks turning them into volatile loose canons, plunging Greece into a new reign of deadly terror. "Their complete disregard for any collateral damage is alarming," Bossi says. "That alone should have authorities on extra alert, trying to bust them up before it's too late. "Left unchecked," she warns, "any future hits are bound to come with a kill."

From anarchists to nihilists, militant Greek youth are increasingly networking with other global forces of violence. Left unchecked, they risk turning into loose cannons, disregarding all costs, reports Anthee Carassava. Greek extremists are fleeing to Syria to fight against the “Islamic State” group, and the surge is stoking concerns among authorities in Athens that a fearless, new-fanged generation of militants ... Read More »

Greek finance ministry sends ‘Scrooge’ Christmas card

Greece's finance minister has sent Christmas e-cards to staff featuring the Charles Dickens character Ebenezer Scrooge. The move is a dig at international lenders who have pushed Greece into deep austerity. Finance Minister Euclide Tsakalotos (pictured above) sent the e-cards to staff and journalists with an illustration by caricaturist John Leech from the Charles Dickens novel "A Christmas Carol." The drawing features the miser protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge, who hates Christmas and refuses to give his staff time off or donate to charity. The cards, which show the ghost of Scrooge's dead partner Jacob Marley telling him that he must change his ways or face eternal damnation, are clearly a jibe directed at the country's creditors. Message for whom? "Perhaps in all of our Christmas tales there is a terrifying character like Ebenezer who receives the season's spirit in an immense solitude, and closed like an oyster. And maybe our Christmas tale is no exception," read the card's caption. "But, dear friends and colleagues, our wishes go beyond all the Ebenezer's of this world. We don't give up on our wishes," it said. International lenders, including the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, have imposed deep cuts on Greece after the country came close to bankruptcy. In return, the Athens government has received three international bailouts since 2010. Christmas bonus controversy Implementation of the latest accord has been complicated by the decision of the left-wing government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to give a one-off Christmas bonus to old-age pensioners, without consulting creditors first. Several EU partners - especially Germany - have objected to measure, and threatened to suspend a recently-announced debt relief scheme for Athens. News agencies reported that on Christmas Eve cracks also seemed to appear in the Eurogroup's unforgiving stance. Sources said Saturday their concerns had been "alleviated" by a letter from the Greek authorities explaining the tax measures. As a consequence, they said, the group would resume working on debt measures for Greece - but only after Christmas.

Greece’s finance minister has sent Christmas e-cards to staff featuring the Charles Dickens character Ebenezer Scrooge. The move is a dig at international lenders who have pushed Greece into deep austerity. Finance Minister Euclide Tsakalotos (pictured above) sent the e-cards to staff and journalists with an illustration by caricaturist John Leech from the Charles Dickens novel “A Christmas Carol.” The ... Read More »

Brisk business for smugglers in Greece

After a period of quiet following the closure of the Balkan route, people smugglers have returned to northern Greece and profits continue to roll in. Pavlos Zafiropoulos reports from Thessaloniki. In a small kebab shop across the broad avenue that runs in front of the Thessaloniki train station, clusters of migrants drink tea and huddle around electrical outlets charging their phones. Over the past two years the shop, a family-run business operated by Evangelia Karanikolas and her husband, developed into a key stopping point for many migrants and refugees looking to travel the so-called Balkan route to northern Europe. Karanikolas offered free use of the electricity and bathrooms to people sleeping rough in the nearby square and abandoned buildings. She also provided free food when she could, and even a warm place to sleep for some families when the weather was cold. For this reason she has become known to many migrants as 'Mammi'. Today, even following the sealing of the border with Macedonia, little appears to have changed. The numbers of migrants and refugees may be well below the great tide of people who traveled the route in 2015 and early 2016. Yet migrants are still coming - and going. "In any way, they are trying to find some way out," Karanikolas told DW. When asked, a number of the migrants in the shop confirm that they are seeking passage out of Greece. Moving in and out of the shop over the course of the day one can also see other, distinctly better dressed individuals. One such person, Sharif,* told DW that he was a "tourist" in town for a few days. Speaking in an accent with heavy East London tones he claimed that he was visiting the shop merely to be with other Afghans. A few hours later however he could be seen in a nearby dark, abandoned building conversing heavily with an Afghan family who had set up tents for the night. Other migrants told DW that the family had recently attempted to head north but had been picked up by the police in Macedonia and returned to Greece. Now they were considering their options. For a tourist, Sharif behaved very much like a smuggler. Leaky borders The unprecedented movement of people that saw approximately 1 million mainly Syrian and Iraqi refugees reaching northern Europe in 2015-2016 may have been stemmed following efforts to seal Greece's northern borders coupled with the EU-Turkey agreement. Yet today migrants and refugees continue to head north through a number of illicit channels, passing under the radar of immigration officials and filling the coffers of criminal people smuggling networks to the tune of tens of millions of euros. "I would say it is on the rise," one high-ranking police official involved in efforts to combat people smuggling networks in Thessaloniki told DW with regards to the smugglers' activity. "Following the closure of the Balkan route there was a period of relative calm, shall we say, while people waited to see what would happen, what the policies were going to be. Now in recent weeks we have seen a rise in arrests... There are active organizations and there are people who wish to be smuggled, it's the law of supply and demand." The precise numbers of people successfully being smuggled out of Greece are impossible to know for certain. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal citing European immigration officials stated that the whereabouts of as many as 13,000 migrants and refugees who had been registered in Greece is currently unknown. The same article, citing unnamed Greek and European officials, claimed that about 500 per week were being smuggled over the northern border. Yet experts say this figure is necessarily little more than an estimate. Nebulous networks According to police to be smuggled from Thessaloniki to Belgrade usually costs at least between 800 and 1,300 euros ($852-$1,384) per head. Another 1,500 euros is required to reach Germany. Often this money is not paid by the migrants directly but by their families through networks spread across multiple countries. Such prices reflect both the demand for smugglers as well as the difficulty in crossing the border. When movement across the border was largely unimpeded, prices collapsed. Now that the Balkan route is more difficult for migrants, it is more lucrative for the smugglers. "The smugglers certainly celebrated," the police official said of the closure of the Balkan route. "We heard from people involved in this that they were pleased because they would be better able to work." Yet the police describe people smuggling operations as loose criminal networks that are different from the closed pyramid structures associated with the Italian or Russian mafias. While this makes the groups easier to infiltrate, it also means that when significant arrests are made other players can quickly adapt to fill the void. "We have observed that the networks, when they receive a major blow, they go quiet for a period of time. But we can't say they stop. They reorganize themselves, they start recruiting other players, and this has to do with the law of supply and demand. This phenomenon will not stop as long as there are people who want to migrate, who want to leave their countries, due to wars, due to poverty," the police official said. Terror threat The latter is a sentiment that is echoed by Angeliki Dimitriadi, a migration expert and Research Fellow with the think tank ELIAMEP in Athens. She argues that past experience dating back to the 1990s indicates that even supposedly successful efforts to seal Europe's external borders such as in the case of Spain usually only deflect the problem elsewhere. "The fact of the matter is there is going to be a way in, there is no way to create Fortress Europe that prevents entry 100 percent. It's not going to happen," she told DW. One way of addressing the rules of supply and demand would be to create legal routes, thereby removing the incentive for refugees to use illegal smuggling alternatives, according to Dimitriadi. The criminal activity may also be making Europe less safe. This is because the same underground networks funded largely by the movement of asylum seekers can also be exploited by criminal and terror groups. "That these networks are used to send some fighters, that has been proven recently with the events in Paris," the police official told DW. "To put it very plainly it is always safer if we know who's coming," Dimitriadi says. "In order to know who's coming, it always better if we can 'choose' also who that person will be. Why not make it legal? We can choose that. We can know who is coming. It will be safer for us and beneficial for them. It is a win win." However, with Europe showing little appetite for the creation of new legal migration routes, the cat and mouse game between police and smugglers on Greece's borders looks set to continue, with increasingly desperate migrants caught in the middle. *Name has been changed.

After a period of quiet following the closure of the Balkan route, people smugglers have returned to northern Greece and profits continue to roll in. Pavlos Zafiropoulos reports from Thessaloniki. In a small kebab shop across the broad avenue that runs in front of the Thessaloniki train station, clusters of migrants drink tea and huddle around electrical outlets charging their ... Read More »

EU-Turkey refugee deal hinges on Greece

The EU-Turkey refugee deal is not going to plan. That has less to do with Turkey, and more with Greece. The deportation and resettling of refugees has been sluggish. Bernd Riegert reports from Brussels. Turkey has threatened to no longer adhere to its refugee deal with the European Union if its citizens do not receive visa-free entry into the bloc by October. The question officials in Brussels are now asking: Do we need the refugee deal, and is it even working? The answer to this question is not clear. The number of asylum seekers and migrants who have traveled from Turkey to Greece has indeed dropped dramatically since March 20. But experts say that is because the EU's asylum policy relies on the closing of the Balkan route, which has a deterring effect on migrants. The conditions in Greek camps like those on the islands of Idomeni and Lesbos have also acted as a deterrant. The prospect of being sent from those camps back to Turkey has clearly discouraged many refugees from making the expensive and dangerous crossing. Few deportations thus far The number of actual deportations from so-called "hot spots" - the registration centers on Greece's Aegian islands - to Turkey is thus far lower than the architects of the refugee deal had described back in March. From April to the end of July, exactly 468 people have been sent back to Turkey from Greece. At the EU-Turkey summit, European officials who prepared the deal had spoken of thousands of deportations. Exaggerated plans? EU member states are set to send up to 4,000 officials to Greece to assist the country's overwhelmed government workers. The two responsible EU authorities, the Frontext border protetion agency and the EASO asylum agency, are calling for the necessary personnel from the bloc's member states. Currently, 61 translators, 92 asylum experts, two deportation experts and 66 border protection officials have been sent to Greece. The procedures in Greece, which are supposed to lead to Syrian civil war refugees and migrants who entered the country illegally being deported to Turkey, is taking much longer than expected. At the closing of the EU-Turkey summit, EU officials talked about a few days or weeks. It is four months later and the preliminary registration of asylum applicants has just finished. Now those seeking asylum can officially register and begin the interview process. Only then will authorities decide whether or not to grant asylum. Waiting for Greece Refugees have not been moved from the islands onto mainland Greece since March 20. Instead, they remain in the 9,399 so-called "hot spots." Greek authorities said on Monday that 57,115 people have completed their preliminary registration for asylum. In the first months of the year, Greek asylum authorities completed 588 applications - 410 were rejected, 178 were accepted. If Turkey decides to no longer accept the rejected asylum applications, it would have little immediate impact on the ground. Only the psychological effect of such a decision on refugees and migrants currently waiting in Turkey would be of concern to the EU. They could feel encouraged and still head for Greece, even if they cannot continue to western Europe from there. Sluggish resettlement within the EU The direct resettlement of "obviously vulnerable" people from Greece to other EU states is only taking place to a limited extent. Just 2,681 people have been resettled since last summer. The resettlement of nearly 12,000 people had been assured. But it has been a sluggish process, because the accepting states' selection process for those in consideration for resettlement is very slow. The mayor of Kos, capital of the island of the same name, warned in a letter to the Greek government of the consequences of a further wave of refugees. "It would be a disaster for our efforts to limit losses in the tourism industry," Giogros Kyritsis wrote to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Greece's refugee minister Yiannis Mouzalas suggested a new plan to Germany's mass-circulation "Bild" newspaper, should Turkey reneg on the refugee deal. "We do not need a Plan B," answered EU Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva. "We have a Plan A in action now." Public health authorities: Close Greek camps The conditions in Greece's temporary camps may act as a deterrant to future refugees. They are not up to international standards - that is not just according to NGOs, but to the Greek government itself. The Greek Center for Disease Control inspected 16 camps at the beginning of July. The authorities reccommended all the camps be closed due to unsanitary conditions and water supply. The situation in Greece would likely worsen if Turkey backs out of the refugee deal. Or would the conditions in Greece and the closed Balkan route serve as enough of a deterrant to keep migrants in Turkey? EU officials in Brussels are not the only ones asking themselves that question.

The EU-Turkey refugee deal is not going to plan. That has less to do with Turkey, and more with Greece. The deportation and resettling of refugees has been sluggish. Bernd Riegert reports from Brussels. Turkey has threatened to no longer adhere to its refugee deal with the European Union if its citizens do not receive visa-free entry into the bloc ... Read More »

Greek authorities begin clearing Idomeni refugee camp

Greece has launched an operation to gradually clear the Idomeni refugee camp on the Macedonian border. Authorities have blocked off the area and sent in hundreds of riot police. Greek police on Tuesday began evacuating some 8,400 migrants camping near Greece's border with Macedonia. A helicopter and some 20 riot police units comprising roughly 400 police officers are being used in the operation, officials reported. Government spokesman Giorgos Kyritsis said police would not use force in relocating the camp's residents, a process which is expected to last up to 10 days. Authorities said the migrants camping out there would gradually be moved to newly completed, organized shelters near the country's second largest city, Thessaloniki. DW correspondent at Idomeni Marianna Karakoulaki said police have ordered all journalists to leave. Idomeni became a flashpoint site for migration to Europe when Macedonia earlier this year shut its border to those wishing to transit through to wealthier European countries, including Germany and Sweden. The border closures left thousands trapped in Greece. Nearly a million migrants have passed through the country, many of them arriving on boats from Turkey. Under deal struck in March between Turkey and the European Union, irregular migrants who arrive on Greece's islands will be sent back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. Previously, most migrants landing in debt-hit Greece held off on registering for asylum there, instead hoping to make their way through the Balkans to richer northern countries. The Greek government has for months been trying to persuade migrants to leave Idomeni and the port city of Piraeus for organized camps.

Greece has launched an operation to gradually clear the Idomeni refugee camp on the Macedonian border. Authorities have blocked off the area and sent in hundreds of riot police. Greek police on Tuesday began evacuating some 8,400 migrants camping near Greece’s border with Macedonia. A helicopter and some 20 riot police units comprising roughly 400 police officers are being used ... Read More »

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