Greece Moves to Relocate Refugees to Sheltered Camps

A migrant boy shelters himself from the rain at a makeshift camp on the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, Greece March 12. Stoyan Nenov/Reuters

ATHENS/IDOMENI (Reuters) - Greece stepped up efforts on Saturday to move thousands of migrants and refugees stranded near the border with Macedonia to sheltered camps, as spread of infections became a concern with two people in a sprawling tent city diagnosed with Hepatitis A.

At the muddy tent city near the northern border town of Idomeni, at least 12,000 people, among them thousands of children and babies, were waiting to cross the border, although Macedonia and other nations along the so-called Western Balkan route have closed their borders.

Scuffles broke out in the town this week as destitute migrants and refugees scrambled for food and firewood, while many have been sleeping in the open, often in the rain and low temperatures.

Greek authorities handed out leaflets in Idomeni on Saturday, informing the migrants and refugees that the main passage to northern Europe is shut and urging them to move to buildings and hospitality centers across Greece that had been set aside for the purpose, according to a government official and a Reuters eyewitness.

Leaflets would also be distributed in ports and islands to discourage people from going up to Idomeni, the government official said.

"Greece will offer you accommodation, food and healthcare," read the leaflets, which were written in Arabic, Farsi and Pashtun.

Deputy Defence Minister Dimitris Vitsas, in charge of coordinating Greek efforts to tackle the refugee crisis, said 400 people were moved from Idomeni to camps on Friday and the numbers would increase in the coming days.

"Many of them are waiting for a decision by the [EU] summit on March 17. We are saying that regardless of this decision, there are three camps very close [to shelter them]," he told Greek Mega television.

EU leaders and Turkey are due to meet again on Thursday and Friday to seal a deal to stem illegal migrant flows from Turkey to Europe through Greece.

The squalid, overcrowded conditions of the camp in Idomeni have given rise to infections. A nine-year old Syrian girl was diagnosed with Hepatitis A on Friday, according to Greece's disease control agency.

The girl was being treated in a stable condition, the agency said, adding that it had already taken action to prevent spreading of the disease across the migrants in Idomeni.

A second individual from Idomeni was diagnosed with Hepatitis A and transferred to a hospital on Saturday, a disease control official told Reuters.

To ensure water quality, seven water transportation vehicles, three deployed by the Greek army, started operating in Idomeni, the government said in an announcement late Saturday.

In the last 24 hours, 629 more people arrived on Greek islands from Turkey, with the total number of migrants and refugees stuck in the country reaching about 40,000, government data showed.