Athens, Greece – Hundreds of asylum seekers lined up to receive food outside a former Olympic Taekwondo centre – now a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants – while dozens of heavily armed Greek riot police watched.
They were expelled by Greek forces from the Greece-Macedonia border crossing in Idomeni earlier this week, and anger ran high on Friday among the more than 1,000 refugees and migrants placed in the overcrowded stadium on the outskirts of the Athens.
The camp’s inhabitants were sent back to the Greek capital due to Macedonian border restrictions that ban entry for asylum seekers who cannot prove they are citizens of Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Among them are people from across Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East, including Iran, Morocco, Eritrea, Somalia and Congo.
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov announced the border closure more than three weeks ago, but people continued to pour into the Idomeni area, often unaware of the new restrictions.
Ivanov said that any more than 2,000 refugees crossing through the country at any given moment would cause “permanent and direct threats and risks for national security”.
Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia have taken similar measures.
‘Not even fit for animals’
Standing outside in a swelling food queue, Mahdi, a 20-year-old Moroccan who had camped in Idomeni for eight days, said the stadium “isn’t even fit for animals”.
“We are sleeping on concrete floors with no mattresses,” he told Al Jazeera. “There are no showers and the bathrooms are filthy. At night, people cannot sleep because everyone is stepping on one another to move around.”
People pushed and fought for a place in the line, while others yelled at the Greek police officers for not helping to organise the queue.
Mahdi said that the food rations “are very small. A portion isn’t enough for a kid. It’s just two pieces of dry bread with a thin slice of meat in between – and it has no taste”.
Inside the stadium, blankets were scattered across the floors, many of them nestled next to overflowing rubbish bins. Dirty water seeped from the bathrooms and into the hallways where families were sleeping.
“I’m too disgusted by this place to eat the food anyway,” Mahdi added. “We are humans just like you. Why can’t we be treated like it?”
Speaking to local media on Thursday, Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas admitted that authorities were ill-prepared for the return of refugees and migrants to the capital, where they have been put in three different temporary facilities.
“I don’t know where the migrants will go from here,” Mouzalas said. “You’ll find out when it happens.”
An estimated 769,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece so far in 2015, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
Despite the worsening weather and border restrictions, another 4,000 arrived at the port of Piraeus from the Aegean islands on Thursday alone, according to local media.
No turning back
Standing outside the camp’s gates, Geylo, 27, said that he fled from the war-ravaged Goma region of Congo with hopes of attaining asylum in France.
“I cannot go back to Goma,” he told Al Jazeera. “There are still problems with rebels and more deaths every day.”
Geylo, who is a musician, had dreamed of pursuing a musical career in Paris, but he does not know what to do now that the borders are closed for him.
Alaa, a 36-year-old Palestinian refugee from the Ain al-Hilweh camp in Lebanon, was denied entry to Macedonia while trying to pass with his wife and five-year-old daughter, both of whom have Syrian citizenship.
He had lived in Damascus with his wife for more than a decade, where he worked in interior design.
“Wherever Palestinians go, the borders are closed for us,” he told Al Jazeera. “OK, if you don’t want us in Europe, help us return to Palestine.”
Despite the rainy and cold weather, Alaa camped outside the Idomeni crossing for a week until Greek forces evicted more than 1,300 people.
“They came before sunrise and started ripping our tents up,” he said. “They were forceful, punching and pushing. Some people were arrested.”
Explaining that his wife and child have already arrived in Germany, he added: “I really don’t know what to do now. I spoke to them on the phone this morning and my daughter started crying. I cried, too.”
‘I just want a better life’
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Nigel, who fled from Nigeria, decried the poor conditions inside the stadium.
“It’s very bad inside. I don’t mind staying in Greece. I came to Europe because I just want a better life.”
Inside the dimly lit stadium, families and groups were spread across the concrete ground. Young men took turns using electricity sockets to charge their phones, hoping to check in with relatives back home.
A family of six sat around their tent. The mother held her small child in her lap to keep her from getting wet.
Pointing at his blanket on the floor, 23-year-old Hamza, who left Morocco last month with the intention of reaching Holland, said he would have never have come “if I knew it would be like this”.
“It’s shameful for women and children to be put in a place like this,” he said.
He recalled taking a dinghy boat through the dangerous waterways between Turkey and the Greek island of Lesbos, before moving on to Idomeni.
“I spent all my money,” Hamza said. “We all risked our lives.”
“We came to Europe because we wanted human rights, but when we got here, we found out that there are none.”
Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_