Desperate migrants plead to escape 'hellish' Greek camp

Tents at Idomeni (March 2016)
Image caption The desperate pleas of the migrants have been firmly stated on their tents

From a distance, the spring sunshine on Idomeni migrant camp gives it the look of a music festival campsite.

Thousands of multi-coloured, flimsy tents, clustered together in a farmer's field, with food stalls selling chips and curried meat, and rows of portable toilets.

"This is a hellish Glastonbury, where everyone's trying desperately to leave," is how an aid worker has described the scene. Glastonbury is a performing arts festival in the British county of Somerset.

The camp has formed around a railway line, where there are two official routes from Greece into Macedonia - one for a train of passengers and freight - the other for migrants to be registered on entry.

But on Monday morning both routes were suddenly shut after an incident where migrant men threw stones at border guards.

The men then managed to breach a fence using iron poles as battering rams. The guards' response was swift, firing tear gas directly into the crowd.

Image caption This Syrian family is among those desperate to leave Idomeni - and has so far waited for about a week
Image copyright AP
Image caption The border between Greece and Macedonia is for the most part firmly closed
Image copyright AFP
Image caption At least 2,000 people queue for food every morning in Idomeni

The gates remained shut until 06:00 on Wednesday, when a small group of about 170 refugees from Syria were allowed through.

The gates are closed once again. Since then there has been no access. Several migrants say they have been told to come back at the same time tomorrow. Greek riot police are reinforcing the area, lining up across the train tracks, while young children play in front of them.

Well-trodden route

Aid agencies estimate that between 9,000 and 10,000 migrants have now arrived here.

I see a steady stream of people continue to head across the corn fields to the border crossing, and some strange sights - migrant men wheeling trolleys, wheelie bins and prams full of clothing and essentials on this well-trodden route.

Image caption Farah and her family fear that Europe's heart has gone cold over the migrant issue
Image caption Mohammed from Damascus has been robbed of his money and now has no means to buy food. "This is not the Europe I imagined," he says
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Clashes took place at Idomeni between migrants and border guards earlier this week

"Has Europe's warm heart gone cold?" Farah, 37, a musician from Baghdad asks. She is sharing a bright pink tent near the border's entrance with her husband and two sons.

"We've been here six days now. We have registration papers to leave and we are genuine refugees fleeing war, unlike some of the other people here who are ruining our chances."

Farah points to other tents and complains that Moroccans, Pakistanis and Iranians are falsely claiming Syrian nationality on fake documents.

Aid workers from the Medecins Sans Frontieres aid agency are dishing out a breakfast of bread, rice and meat from a huge white marquee, with at least 2,000 people in the morning queue.

At the edge of the camp is a line of tents daubed in permanent marker with "Help us it's cold" and "Open the borders".

I find 23-year-old Mohammed from Damascus inside one tent. He is teary eyed and tells me €200 (£155; $217) has been stolen from his tent as he left to find food.

"I have lost my money, my dignity and now I am losing patience," he says. "My mother was supposed to be leaving from Damascus next week to join me. I've told her to think twice. This is not the Europe I imagined."