Refugees line up outside police station in Greece waiting to be arrested in order to claim asylum

Hundreds of migrants and refugees have lined up in front of a police station in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, waiting to be arrested so that they can lodge their asylum applications.

The unusual sight came as the number of asylum-seekers crossing the land border from Turkey surged.

Around 11,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the frontier so far this year, compared to 2,500 last year.

More than half the asylum seekers reaching Greece are women and children, according to the UN refugee agency.

A few hundred asylum-seekers, many of them from Iraq and Iran, have been sleeping rough in parks and squares in Thessaloniki for days.

They include women and children who bed down on scraps of cardboard laid out on the ground.

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But with winter weather approaching, they are anxious to submit their asylum requests and be transferred to migrant camps.

Since countries such as Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary closed their borders to refugees in 2016, around 60,000 asylum seekers have been stuck in limbo in Greece, with efforts to resettle them in other EU member states stalled.

That number is growing all the time as new arrivals come from Turkey, either crossing the land border between the two countries or taking small boats to Aegean islands such as Lesbos, Kos and Samos.

A man and his children sleep outside the police station in Thessaloniki, Greece's second cityCredit:
Giannis Papanikos/AP

The land border has become more popular as the camps on the islands become increasingly crowded, with migrants facing squalid conditions and frequent fights between rival nationalities.

"This is not the Europe that the world imagines," Kumi Naidoo, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, said last week during a visit to Moria, the largest camp on Lesbos. "The conditions are appalling.”

Humanitarian groups report that conditions are so bad that even children have attempted suicide.

Children held in the camps are suffering from nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety and elective mutism, Medecins Sans Frontieres said in a report last month.

“These children come from countries in war, where they have experienced very extreme violence and trauma. Rather than receiving care and protection in Europe, they are instead subjected to ongoing fear, stress and episodes of further violence, including sexual violence,” said Dr Declan Barry, MSF’s medical coordinator in Greece.