Greece sent in police and bulldozers on Tuesday to knock down tents and relocate hundreds of migrants who had been stranded for months in a squalid makeshift camp on the border with Macedonia.
Several busloads of people, most of them families with children, left the sprawling expanse of tents at Idomeni to move to state-run centers further south. Buses were lined up ready to take more, Reuters witnesses said.
By the latest count, at least 8,000 people were camped at Idomeni in difficult, overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation, ignoring previous calls by the government to leave.
As many as 12,000 people, most of them Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, were stuck there at one point after Balkan countries shut their borders in February, barring them from crossing to central and northern Europe.
Greece was the main entry point for more than a million migrants who made it to Europe last year, most after perilous sea crossings.
New arrivals there have slowed sharply since the European Union struck a deal with Turkey to get it to curb the flow, but the government says there are still more than 54,000 migrants on Greek soil.
It plans to move people gradually to state-supervised facilities which have a capacity of about 5,000. A total of 2,031 people were moved on Tuesday, police said, 1,273 of them Kurds, 662 Syrians and 96 Yazidis.
“The evacuation is progressing without any problem,” said Giorgos Kyritsis, a government spokesman on the migration crisis. They would be relocated “ideally by the end of the week”, he said. “We haven’t put a strict deadline on it.”
A Reuters witness on the Macedonian side of the border said there was a heavy police presence in the area, but no problems were reported as people with young children packed up huge bags with their belongings.
Media on the Greek side of the border were kept at a distance. Inside the Idomeni camp, police in riot gear stood guard as people boarded the buses, state TV footage showed.
But at the Oreokastro camp near the city of Thessaloniki, migrants already there shouted at new arrivals not to get off the buses because of conditions there, a Reuters witness said.
A police official said about 1,000 people continued to block the only railway tracks linking Greece and Macedonia, closed off for weeks by protesters demanding passage to northern Europe.