Tension in Europe: On Sunday, violence erupted in the Idomeni refugee camp along the border between Greece and Macedonia as refugees attempted to storm a fence. Macedonian police reportedly responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, and a clash ensued for seven hours. There were no fatalities, but medical teams in the camp are treating about 300 people for injuries sustained from police beatings, tear gas inhalation, and rubber bullets.
Greece condemned Macedonia's use of tear gas and rubber bullets, yet also placed some responsibility on the refugees themselves for circulating rumors that the border will re-open soon. Thousands of refugees have been stranded in this camp for months after Macedonia's decision to completely close its borders in February, and tensions have escalated ever since as the Balkan route into Europe remains closed. Many of the camp's residents refuse to move away from the border, and as Macedonia has not made any indication that the border will re-open anytime soon, it it likely that this won't be the last violent encounter along the border.
Elsewhere in Europe, hostility toward refugees and migrants has been on the rise this week as well. Austria has announced that it will build a "migrant fence" along it's border with Italy in anticipation of increased arrivals to Italy. In Bulgaria, an amateur video emerged of three migrants with their hands bound in zip-ties, being filmed by a group of "vigilantes" repeatedly telling them "No Bulgaria, go back to Turkey". The group is being searched for by prosecutors in Bulgaria, but it is clear that they are not the only ones in Bulgaria, or Europe, to hold such beliefs.
Burundi: Since Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza's election to an unconstitutional third term, the country has been caught in violence between the government and opposing citizens, leaving Burundi on the brink of a civil war. Burundians report horrors done to them by armed forces, including murders, rapes, and beatings of women and children, causing many to flee to neighboring countries. More than 250,000 displaced are living in refugee camps in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Congo.
However, the groups leaving Burundi are so large that it is easy for armed attackers to follow them and end up in the same refugee camps. The violence has thus spread to the neighboring countries and horrors against the exiled continue, leaving the displaced defenseless and with nowhere else to go. Most displaced are living in Tanzania, where the military controls access into and out of camps, but attackers have been able to disguise themselves and carry out stabbings, rapes, etc. within the camp. Burundi is in distress, and its people have nowhere that they can consider a safe home.
The Red Cross and Restoring Family Links continue to offer tracing and messaging services to those affected by the Burundi crisis, both inside and outside of refugee camps. A photo essay of their work in reconnecting those in Lusenda camp, DRC, can be found here.
Papal Visit to Greece: On Saturday, April 16, Pope Francis will travel to the Greek island of Lesbos, one of the major transit points for incoming refugees and migrants to Europe. Out of the nearly 150,000 arrivals so far this year, over half arrived to the island, with many stranded there and elsewhere on the Balkan peninsula as their movements remain restricted. The Pontifex's visit comes at a critical time, as refugees' and migrants' rights under international law are being infringed upon by the controversial deal between the EU and Turkey. He will be accompanied by spiritual leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church to bring attention in solidarity to the emergency situation in Greece and the suffering of those fleeing.
They will first visit Moria, a fenced complex on the island that holds more than 3,000 waiting to either be relocated to the EU or sent back to Turkey, depending on if their applications are accepted or not. They will greet 250 refugees waiting for their asylum application to be processed, before heading to the port where the pontiff will make a speech, and each leader will offer a prayer for the deceased.
As a sitting European head of state and religious leader, the pope's visit is a message to other European leaders to treat the situation with urgency and, especially, humanity.