Musical stunt highlights migrant plight at borders

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (right) protecting himself and others from the rain as Syrian refugee Nour Alkhzam plays the piano during a performance at a refugee camp in Idomeni on Saturday.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (right) protecting himself and others from the rain as Syrian refugee Nour Alkhzam plays the piano during a performance at a refugee camp in Idomeni on Saturday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

IDOMENI (Greece) • Greece said on Saturday it aimed to "resolve" the migrant build-up on the Macedonian border within a week, as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei hauled a white grand piano to the muddy frontier to highlight their plight.

As the rain poured down on Idomeni camp, where some 12,000 people are stranded in miserable conditions, a surreal scene played out with Syrian refugee Nour Alkhzam, 24, sitting at the piano and playing for 20 minutes under plastic sheets held up by Mr Ai and a handful of others. The stunt was the latest in a series of projects by the dissident artist to shine a spotlight on Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II.

With the human suffering worsening after Balkan states closed their borders, Mr Dimitris Vitsas, the Greek minister charged with coordinating the refugee flow, said Athens would try to convince migrants to move to other reception centres across the country.

By the end of next week, there would be "50,000 spots" available across the country, he said.

"I hope the situation at Idomeni is resolved within a week without recourse to force," he told Mega TV. Earlier in the day, around 200 people demonstrated in Idomeni over conditions at the camp where they have been waiting in vain for the Macedonian border to open so they can continue their journey to central and northern Europe.

NO HUMAN RIGHTS CONCESSIONS

There cannot be any concessions on the matter of human rights or the criteria for visa liberalisation.

FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, on concessions for guarantees to stem the refugee flow.

Chanting "open the border", they staged a sit-in protest at a cross-border railway line. The border closures have left thousands, many of them children, to camp out in squalid conditions.

There are more than 42,000 migrants in Greece, of which around 7,700 are on islands in the Aegean Sea. Many more, most fleeing the Syrian conflict, are still trying to reach the Greek islands by taking dangerous boat trips from Turkey.

Last week, European Union and Turkish leaders agreed on a controversial plan that would see Syrians sent back from Greece to Turkey, in exchange for the EU resettling Syrian refugees from Turkish camps in a "one-for-one" swop.

But the plan, due to be finalised at a EU summit on March 17, has come under fire with top United Nations officials responsible for refugees and rights questioning whether the mass expulsions would be legal.

French President Francois Hollande on Saturday said the EU must not grant Turkey any concessions on human rights or visas in exchange for guarantees to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

"There cannot be any concessions on the matter of human rights or the criteria for visa liberalisation," Mr Hollande said ahead of the resumption this week of tough negotiations between Turkey and the EU in Brussels.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'Musical stunt highlights migrant plight at borders'. Print Edition | Subscribe