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Decrepit Athens Airport Becomes Shelter for Stranded Migrants

The old international airport in Athens is being used as a makeshift shelter as Greece is flooded with migrants from the Mideast.

Greece moved to slow the flow of migrants from its islands to the mainland on Friday as thousands of homeless refugees were trapped in the country by border limits imposed along a Balkan route to richer nations in northern Europe.

From its northern frontier with Macedonia to its port of Piraeus in the south, Greece was inundated with refugees and migrants after border shutdowns cascaded through the Balkans, stranding at least 20,000 in the country.

Above: A man holds a child at the old international airport in Athens, which is used as a shelter for refugees and migrants on Feb. 26, 2016.

Thanassis Stavrakis / AP

Hundreds of people were temporarily accommodated at a disused airport west of Athens.

Sleeping mats were strewn across the terminal among biscuit wrappers as many women sat on the floor, some weeping.

Above: People stand on a balcony of the airport on Feb. 26, 2016.

Thanassis Stavrakis / AP

In the latest measure to slow the northward movement of migrants, the police chiefs of Slovenia, Austria, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia agreed to limit the flow to about 580 per day per country, Slovenian police said on Friday.

Above: Migrants rest inside the airport on Feb. 26, 2016.

SIMELA PANTZARTZI / EPA

Hastily setup camps for refugees and other migrants are full.

Thousands of people wait through the night, shivering in the cold at the Greek-Macedonian border, in the country's main port of Piraeus, in squares dotted around Athens, or on dozens of buses parked up and down Greece's main north-south highway.

Above: Children play outside the airport on Feb. 27, 2016.

Yorgos Karahalis / AP

Greece asked its passenger ferry companies and travel agencies on Friday to cut back on bringing migrants and refugees from frontline islands to the mainland and said its own chartered ships would stay put for a few days.

The moves, described by Greece's shipping minister as temporary, are designed to stem a flow of people mostly fleeing violence in the Middle East. Most refugees arrive in the European Union after a short but at times dangerous journey by small boats from Turkey to nearby Greek islands such as Lesbos.

Above: A migrant woman sleeps as her children play next to her inside the disused Hellenikon airport on Feb. 26, 2016.

ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / Reuters

Greece is mired in a full-blown diplomatic dispute with some EU countries over their border slowdowns and closures. But to those on the road — and to Greece, a financially struggling nation with a lengthy seacoast that is impossible to seal — who is responsible for the border restrictions almost doesn't matter.

What matters is the result. And that result finds both Greece and the migrants caught in the middle between an increasingly fractious Europe, where several countries are reluctant to accept more asylum-seekers, and Turkey, which has appeared unwilling or unable to staunch the torrent of people leaving its shores in barely seaworthy smuggling boats bound for Greek islands.

Above: A boy plays with a balloon inside the airport on Feb. 26, 2016.

ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / Reuters

Adding to the pressure is Greece's financial predicament. The country has been wracked by a financial crisis since 2010 and still depends on an international bailout for which it must pass yet more painful reforms. Those have led to widespread protests, including blockades on the country's highways by farmers who are furious at pension changes they say will decimate their incomes.

Above: An elderly migrant sleeps on the ground outside the old airport on Feb. 26, 2016.

SIMELA PANTZARTZI / EPA

The vast majority of those reaching Greece, Europe's main gateway for migrants, have been Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis fleeing war at home.

Above: Children play at the old international airport on Feb. 26, 2016.

Thanassis Stavrakis / AP

Migrants leave the airport and walk on the seaside avenue in Athens, trying to reach the railway station on Feb. 26, 2016.

SIMELA PANTZARTZI / EPA

Migrants walk along the road after leaving the old airport in Athens on Feb. 26, 2016.

SIMELA PANTZARTZI / EPA
Protesting stranded migrants block a highway next to the disused Hellenikon airport, demanding to cross the Greek-Macedonian border, in Athens on Feb. 26, 2016. ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / Reuters
Hundreds of people leave the old international airport in Athens, on Feb. 26, 2016 as they try to find a solution to the closed borders. Thanassis Stavrakis / AP
A migrant holds his hands to his face as he walks on a highway trying to reach the port of Piraeus, after leaving the airport in Athens on Feb. 26, 2016. ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / Reuters
People rest inside the old airport in Athens, on Feb. 26, 2016. Thanassis Stavrakis / AP
Two men from Iraq sit at a parking area outside the old international airport, in Athens on Feb. 27, 2016. Yorgos Karahalis / AP
A woman smokes a cigarette outside the airport in Athens, on Feb. 27, 2016. Yorgos Karahalis / AP

Two youths sit at an abandoned limousine stop outside the old international airport, in Athens on Feb. 27, 2016.

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Yorgos Karahalis / AP