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Photos Show Refuge, But No Respite In Greece As Police Empty Idomeni Refugee Camp

28/05/2016 6:52 AM AEST | Updated 28/05/2016 6:52 AM AEST
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Kelly Lynn Lunde
A boy holds a sign on April 4, 2016 on the third day of protest along the highway outside Polykastro, in Central Macedonia, Greece.

As Greek police relocate migrants and refugees from the informal Idomeni camp, photographer Kelly Lynn Lunde documents a 1,300-strong settlement at a gas station next door, one of several nearby refuges that have sprung up over the past several months.

Once a forgettable rest stop outside the city of Polykastro in the north of Greece, the local EKO gas station has served for the past several months as a refuge for roughly 1,300 refugees waiting to cross into Macedonia. Most are Syrian, Iraqi and Kurdish families who chose it over the crowded and intense Idomeni camp, 12 miles (20km) to the north, where 11,000 other refugees have been camping.

It turned out to be a prudent decision. While the owners of the gas station have allowed the refugees to stay, this week Greek police started evacuating thousands of migrants from Idomeni. They will be moved to facilities where the conditions mirror those at detention centers in Lesbos, with barbed wires, no freedom of movement and exasperating delays in asylum applications.

The refugees at the EKO camp have been living in tents provided by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) and other independent organizations. They make up just one of several informal encampments along the highway.

In April, many of the refugees, whose movements have been stifled by the shuttering of various borders, staged a demonstration on the highway. Their protest was also a reaction to the E.U.-Turkey deal that would return many of them en masse to Turkey, and which has led to further closures of the border into Macedonia and across the Balkan route into northern Europe.

Organizers of the protests allowed regular vehicles to pass but blocked shipping trucks that use the thoroughfare to cross the border. For five days, the protesters pitched tents on the highway, played music, cooked food, danced and slept there through the night. They simply wanted to bring attention to their desperate living conditions in the faint hope they would be allowed to pass through the Balkan route.

A significant number of those at the EKO camp and elsewhere in Greece are hoping to join immediate family members already in Germany, Sweden and other European countries. According to UNHCR, 40 percent of those who arrived in March 2016 were under 18 years of age.

Kelly Lynn Lunde
Boys walk past tents surrounding the EKO gas station. The larger tents were provided by UNHCR and MSF, but most people live in small camping tents donated privately.
Kelly Lynn Lunde
Nine-month-old Ahmad, from Syria, gets a haircut while his 23-year-old father, Farhud, holds his attention. Ali, the barber, from the Syrian city of Aleppo, was a women'€™s hair stylist, but now mostly offers his services to young men in the camp, charging 5 euros for a haircut and shave.
Kelly Lynn Lunde
A Syrian family prepares bread to sell from their tent. Using a satellite dish to bake the bread, they start at around 10 a.m. and work most of the day, selling three pieces for 1 euro.
Kelly Lynn Lunde
Rahaf Habash, 21, stands next to her small tent near a crowded gas pump. She was married to her husband Basel for fewer than four months when he left their home outside Damascus for Germany. She later followed him in February and was forced to give up most of her belongings and valuables as bribes, including her wedding ring. 
Kelly Lynn Lunde
A Palestinian volunteer runs a daily children's English lesson in a donated tent. 
Kelly Lynn Lunde
Residents of EKO camp hold hands while doing an Arab folk dance called dabke, and wave a Greek flag during a protest calling for open European borders.
Kelly Lynn Lunde
Doused in kerosene, 16-year-old Hesham, an unaccompanied minor, speaks on the phone with a friend after threatening to immolate himself in protest if the Macedonian border did not open within four hours. Hesham's father has not been seen in two years after being kidnapped in Syria, where his mother still lives.
Kelly Lynn Lunde
Smoke rises from fires on the evening of April 2, 2016 after refugees filled the main Greek highway with tents and camped overnight. 
Kelly Lynn Lunde
Umm Umran, 41, sits on the pavement with her five children --€“ Umran,16, Mohammed, 15, Ali, 11, Ala'€™a, 6, and Adidas, 4 --€“ outside EKO gas station. The family have lived there since late March, waiting to join their father in Goldenstedt, Germany.
Kelly Lynn Lunde
Zainab, 12, watches an episode of Mr. Bean at a gathering organized by a Spanish volunteer. Zainab has been living in Idomeni with her family for a month and a half after fleeing Idlib, Syria. Her 17-year-old brother waits for them in Germany. "€œThere aren'€™t planes that bomb us there. We'€™ll be safe,"€ she says.
Kelly Lynn Lunde
Karam, 19, and Mohammed, 18, both from Hama, Syria, stand in the street with their belongings, preparing to make their way back to their country after 40 days at EKO gas station. 
Kelly Lynn Lunde
Heleen, 11, from Qamishli, Syria, lays across the highway in protest against closed borders on April 2, 2016. "If the border opens, we will go," she says. 
Kelly Lynn Lunde
A group of refugees gather on April 2, 2016 to watch a Barcelona vs. Real Madrid soccer game inside the gas station cafe.
Kelly Lynn Lunde
Hadi Al Ishkey, 10, from Damascus, lies in a tent pitched on the highway to protest the border closure between Greece and Macedonia, his chest reading, "Save us please." 
Kelly Lynn Lunde
A Syrian prepares falafel in the gas station cafe. The owners allow the former chef to make and sell his street food from the cafe's kitchen for 1 euro a piece, using bread prepared by other refugees in the camp. 

This article originally appeared on Refugees Deeply. For weekly updates and analysis about refugee issues, you can sign up to the Refugees Deeply email list.