IT MIGHT NOT get as much attention as a U.S. Navy destroyer being buzzed by Russian warplanes, but Greek fighter jets rattled the nerves of refugees fleeing the war in Syria on Thursday by conducting military exercises directly above a makeshift camp at the Macedonian border.
Martin Gommel, a German photojournalist, recorded video of the jets swooping low over the camp at Idomeni, where about 12,000 people have been stranded since Macedonia closed its border.
According to Gommel and Marcel van der Steen, a Dutch journalist, the jets circled for at least 10 minutes over the camp, which is now home to shell-shocked families who fled Syrian government airstrikes in the city of Aleppo.
The Greek defense ministry told reporters that the drills along the border and over the Aegean Sea were a response to recent violations of its airspace by Turkey’s air force, and the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets at refugees in Idomeni by Macedonian security forces.
Still, as Marianna Karakoulaki, a Greek journalist, noted, the ear-splitting sound of warplanes was traumatic for the refugees, including young children.
Less than a week ago, Mohamed El Dahshan, an Egyptian economist who is volunteering at the camp, reported that Syrian and Iraqi children had drawn images of airstrikes in art therapy classes.
The Greek government has been trying to move the refugees from Idomeni — a tiny village with just 154 residents before the migrant crisis — to official camps where they can seek asylum, but many have resisted, holding out hope of somehow making it to one of the wealthier countries in northern Europe. (There have also been reports of violence at some of the state-run camps, with frustrations boiling over into fights between refugees from Afghanistan and Syria, and attacks on migrants by members of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party.)
The incident came just days after Greece’s foreign ministry said that it had delivered “two severe demarches” to the Macedonian authorities, complaining about the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on the refugees, which injured more than 300 people, according to Médecins Sans Frontières.
Tear gas was fired again on Wednesday from the Macedonian side, as a group of refugees tried to force their way through the border in hopes of making it to northern Europe.
After that incident, Greek authorities arrested solidarity activists from Britain, Germany, and Norway, accusing them of inciting the violence by encouraging the refugees to try to break through the border fence.
In another part of Greece, on the island of Lesbos, the authorities were spotted covering up graffiti painted on the walls of the Moria migrant detention center that Pope Francis plans to visit on Saturday.
Last month, the aid group Médecins Sans Frontières announced that it had stopped working at the Moria camp since a deal between the European Union and Turkey had transformed it into “a pre-removal center offering insufficient guarantees for the respect of people’s basic rights.”