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Amid EU Deal, Migrants In Greece Doubtful Macedonia Border Will Open


The European Union and Turkey have agreed to a plan for the EU to accept up to 72,000 Syrian refugees to its 28 member states. There will also be $7 billion of aid to Turkey and new Turkish refugee camps meant to house both new arrivals and migrants returned from EU countries. In Brussels yesterday, European Council President Donald Tusk outlined the deal, including that specific provision about sending migrants back.


DONALD TUSK: We agreed that all irregular migrants coming from Turkey into Greek islands as from this Sunday, the 20 of March, will be returned to Turkey.

BLOCK: Greece is bearing much of the weight of the migrant crisis. And that's especially apparent in Idomeni. It's a tiny town on the border with Macedonia, a border that's been closed, making Idomeni a choke point. Right now, between nine and 12,000 migrants are stuck there. It's rained for a week, turning the makeshift camp into muddy squalor. Jan van't Land is the deputy head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in Idomeni. As he tells us, many of the people stuck there are children.

JAN VAN'T LAND: Forty percent of all the people there are below 15, and you really immediately notice that. Of course, these children, they are everywhere. Not going to say that they're having a good time, but they are playing and are running. In a way, it's nice. But it is, of course, terrible and horrible that you see them crying and not being happy.

BLOCK: What are your main health concerns there in Idomeni?

LAND: The main issues we see is respiratory infection, so coughs and issues with breathing. We do see quite a bit of diarrhea. There are skin diseases. That's also linked to bad hygiene.

BLOCK: What about pregnant women in the camp?

LAND: Yeah, a lot in different stages of their pregnancy. We have a lot of babies who were born. Luckily, there are a few regional hospitals not too far from here. So we send the mother to a hospital where she can deliver, and the following day she can go back. But it is a bit harsh to see that this 1-day-old baby has to go back in a wet and muddy tent.

BLOCK: When you talk to the migrants at this camp, do they have any hope of getting into Europe and other countries or are they just despairing about what their future is?

LAND: Yeah, I guess they're somewhere in the middle. In a way, they have nothing left but to hope that something will happen. At the same time, they kind of know that the border between Greece and Macedonia will not open. But what else can they do now? They cannot return back home. That's - for them, it's a clear no. They don't stay in Greece.

I mean, Greece has not much to offer (unintelligible) to a huge economical crisis. It's not a place where you want to build a new life. So they somehow hope to one day reach another country where they can rebuild their lives. And it's very difficult to, for them I guess, to accept that this is going to be a really long road.

BLOCK: Given the deal that the EU and Turkey have reached on sending migrants back to Turkey, will the migrants at this camp go?

LAND: They will not want to go. So it's - I'm not sure how it will work out in the - in practice, how all these 45,000 refugees in Greece, in different camps and different places. To ship all those refugees back to Turkey, they'll be practically quite a difficult task. I think it's not a perfect solution at all. It's, in fact, quite a bad solution. So it's - yeah, there'll be quite a blow.

BLOCK: That's Jan van't Land. He is the deputy head of mission for Doctors Without Borders. He spoke with us from the sprawling refugee camp in Idomeni, Greece. Mr. van't Land, thanks so much for talking with us.

LAND: Yeah, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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