Still more refugees were arriving at the overflowing Idomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonian border on Wednesday despite the gates being shut following a European Union-Turkey summit and a decision by countries further up the Balkan route to allow through only people with valid EU visas.
Heavy rains increased the misery of up to 14,000 people in the camp, which long ago surpassed capacity, leaving thousands to pitch small tents donated by aid groups in surrounding fields and along railway tracks.
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Despite the border closure and increasingly poor conditions, dozens of new arrivals were walking the more than 15 kilometers (10 miles) from a nearby petrol station, men, women and children using flimsy colored ponchos to ward off the worst of the rain and humidity to reach Europe’s largest refugee bottleneck.
In the camp and surrounding fields, thousands sheltered from the driving morning rain any way they could. They huddled in tents pitched in increasingly muddy and swampy fields, trying to insulate their temporary homes by spreading blankets and plastic sheeting over the top. Some used the shiny space blankets they were handed by rescuers after arriving on Greek islands from the nearby Turkish shores in rickety boats.
By the border gate, through which nobody has passed since dawn on Monday, men, women and children slept in a large tent for those who had reached the front of the queue to cross, huddled on the ground and covered by grey blankets handed out by the United Nations refugee agency. A colorful banner made with clothes, blankets and strips of cloth hung on the border fence above coils of razor wire, reading “Made in EU.”
The mood was grim and confused, with many seemingly in denial that this muddy field is where their onward journey ends, far from the better lives they dreamed of in more prosperous European countries such as Germany.
“I don’t know anything,” said 17-year-old Ahmed Merza from Qamishli in Syria, who has been in Idomeni for eight days with his sister. “This is bad news for us — like a bomb.”
Like thousands around him, Merza wanted to go to Germany. “I’m sad,” he said, sheltering from the rain beneath a tree. He didn’t consider staying in Greece to be a viable option, saying that “Greece is a poor country, for us and for the people.”
For others, the conditions were just too much to bear, and about 200 people boarded buses bound south for refugee camps in and around Athens or other parts of Greece. Greek officials have said they will not evacuate the camp by force.
“This is horrible, unbelievable, unbearable. There is war in my country, and they are closing the border,” said Mahmoud Hassan, a 23-year-old Syrian. “Where are we supposed to go? Please if you can do anything – help us. The situation is very, very terrible.”