Greek police have begun clearing hundreds of migrants and refugees from inside the abandoned buildings of Athens' old Hellenikon airport.

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A migrant girl holds her teddy bear during a police operation to evacuate a disused terminal buildingLouisa Gouliamaki/AFP

The Hellenikon complex, largely abandoned over the last 13 years, had at its peak been used to house up to 3,000 migrants, though this had recently dropped to around 600. Most had been living in tents and in poor conditions inside the buildings during their stay.

Human rights groups criticised conditions there as deplorable and unfit for humans. Hundreds slept crammed in tents in the old arrivals terminal, in scorching temperatures with little food and occasional bouts of crime and violence.

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Children play in a corridor at the former Hellenikon airport on 30 March 2017Eleftherios Elis/AFP
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
A Muslim migrant prays inside the disused Hellenikon airport, where refugees and migrants are temporarily housed, on 22 May 2017Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
Muslim refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, pray in a room at the former Hellenikon airport turned into a refugee camp, on 30 March 2017Eleftherios Elis/AFP
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
A Greek national flag is used as part of a self-made tent inside the disused Hellenikon airport, on 13 June 2016Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
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Protesting refugees and migrants, most of them Afghans, block one of the entrances of the refugee camp at the disused Hellenikon airport in Athens on 6 February 2017Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
Children play around an old bus stop at the disused Hellinikon airport on 18 February 2017Michalis Karagiannis/Reuters
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
Migrants and refugees hold placards during a rally against the living conditions at the refugee camps in Greece, outside the disused Hellenikon airport, on 18 February 2017Michalis Karagiannis/Reuters
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
Two women sit by a wire fence with laundry hanging on it, outside the disused Hellenikon airport, on 10 August 2016Michalis Karagiannis/Reuters
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
Migrants block the entrance of the Hellinikon camp in Athens in protest at poor living conditions during a visit by Greek Immigration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas on 6 February 2017Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
Refugees are seen in the unofficial camp for migrants and refugees situated at the Athens Hellenikon complex on 13 June 2016Milos Bicanski/Getty Images
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
A child looks through a fence at the unofficial camp for migrants and refugees situated at the old Athens airport on 13 June 2016Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
A family sits in a makeshift camp hosting mainly Afghan refugees, at the former Hellenikon airport in Athens on 10 May 2016Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP

They were first taken to Hellenikon in November 2015 when police began transferring hundreds from the Greek-Macedonian border.

Dozens of police officers and riot police stood by as people collected their belongings and boarded buses to refugee camps elsewhere in Greece. Police said about 350 people, mainly families, would go to a camp in Thebes, about 70 kilometres northwest of Athens, while the remainder of mainly single people would go to Derveni, about 140 kilometres west of the capital.

Many migrants, mostly Afghans not eligible for an European relocation program to other member states, feared moving farther from Athens would make it harder to leave Greece.

Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
A woman stands among police officers during a police operation to clear out a makeshift migrant camp at the disused Hellenikon airport in AthensCostas Baltas/Reuters
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
A migrant gestures to journalists during a police operation to evacuate a disused terminal building of the former international airportLouisa Gouliamaki/AFP
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
Migrants carry their belongings during a police operation to evacuate a disused terminal building of the former international airportLouisa Gouliamaki/AFP
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
A migrant shouts to journalists from a bus window during a police operation to clear out a makeshift migrant camp at the disused Hellenikon airport in AthensCostas Baltas/Reuters

More than 62,000 migrants and refugees trying to get to northern Europe have been stranded in Greece since countries in the Balkans shut their borders to those seeking passage in March last year. The vast majority arrived on boats from the nearby Turkish shores to Greek islands and had been trying to reach the more prosperous countries in the north of the continent. But an EU-Turkey agreement last year and border closures across the Balkans have ended the flow.

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An Olympic Airways plane is seen at the former Athens International airport, at Hellenikon, on 16 June 2014Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters
Hellenikon airport Athens greece migrants refugees
An old announcement board is pictured at the premises of the disused Hellenikon airport, on 13 July 2016Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
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The Olympic Airways logo is seen on a building at the former Athens International airport, HellenikonReuters
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Stray dogs roam around the grounds of the former Hellenikon airportReuters

The Hellenikon development is led by Greece's Lamda Group with a consortium of overseas investors, and is planned to include a large park, shopping and recreation areas and hotels. During the 2004 Olympics, the complex hosted fencing, baseball, softball, hockey, and canoe and kayak events. Several other Olympic venues have been underused or abandoned in the years since the games.