Idomeni about to explode: Anybody listening out there?

copyright: Amir Karimi

copyright: Amir Karimi

“Like dogs! We are waiting here under unbearable conditions – it is not even suitable for animals!” says a young woman who is enduring since days at the borders of Idomeni. Everywhere around the transit border camp are media representatives from all over the world covering the humanitarian crisis of the last two weeks. It was then when Austria and the Balkan states decided to further reduce the numbers of the refugees who can pass the borders by limiting the eligible nationalities on Iraqis and Syrians. On Monday refugees started a hunger strike after a 13-years-old boy got electroshocked by a cable of a standing train. But is anybody listening out there?

copyright: Chrissi Wilkens

copyright: Chrissi Wilkens

Since the last weekend border police in Macedonia and other Balkan states are pushing refugees back who come from regions which are not considered to be war zones, like i.e. Damascus, Mosul, Rakka. Omar a refugee from Syria is standing infront of the border. He is sleeping with his family in a camp near Idomeni and came by taxi to check the situation. Next to him on the ground some families are sitting in the mud with their babies and waiting. “It’s not good at all here”, he says. In his hometown Aleppo he was a dentist. Now he wants to reach Germany. “The only thing that matters to me is the safety of my children. I hope if this border closes that another route will open for us through Albania or Bulgaria.” But his wishes seem far from reality. Albania just recently announced that it will not take refugees that are blocked in Greece. Bulgaria conducted during the last weekend a major police exercise on the Greek border, testing their capacity to seal the borders to any possible refugee influx.

copyright: Chrissi Wilkens

copyright: Chrissi Wilkens

“Everywhere along the Balkan route barbed wire fences were set up. At some points there are double and triple fences. Refugees cannot pass neither legal, neither illegal”, says a Croatian activist who just came to Idomeni. Meanwhile, supporters and media alike are reporting about repeated ill-treatment of refugees by the border police of Macedonia.
Omar cannot understand the way Europe plays with the lives of thousands of refugees that are stuck in Greece. “They should have told us a month before if they don’t want us. They should have told us to stay in Syria, to live or die there. They should have directly told us that Europe doesn’t care about our lives!”

Some meters away Taysir, another refugee from Aleppo, is trying to find a place to put up a small tent for him and his family. “If you don’t let us pass the borders, please let our children pass. Take our children! In Greece they have no future!” he says desperately.

According to UNHCR 34% of the refugees that come with boats from Turkey to Greece are children. Among the 14.000 refugees in Idomeni it is estimated that 7,000 are children. They have to sleep in tents, in the cold and humidity. There is no sufficient sanitary infrastructure. The transit camp of Idomeni was aimed to host in short term up to 2,000 people. In the camp you can see small children walking barefoot in mud which is full of sewage water. Their faces and bodies are marked by strains. “We have newborn babies here. They have respiratory problems due to toxic smoke of burning plastic. Hundreds of people try to warm their families by burning anything they find. “We have to give them oxygen masks or transport them to the hospital,” says a member of an international health organization.

copyright: Chrissi Wilkens

copyright: Chrissi Wilkens

Chaos is everywhere. A donation and volunteer run social kitchen is cooking thousands of meals daily. Still many remain hungry. Many refugees remain also without shelter. Activists and NGOs appeal for donations of tents and support in human power for the social kitchen and elsewhere in the camp. Activists, volunteers and professionals alike work day and night. In the last days there were many appeals either for food or tents for refugees who have no shelter in the overcrowded camp.

Late at night a big truck is stopping at the entrance of the camp. It’s bringing a very big amount of fire wood – a donation from greek and foreign activists and helpers. Refugees are jumping on the truck and carrying away pieces of wood. It’s one of a few moments of happiness in Idomeni. A slight hope on a little bit of warmth among all the cold. The solidarity from the Greek population is huge. Through calls for solidarity activist from Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and other countries came to Idomeni and try to find ways of supporting the refugees directly of by either sending money or necessary materials such as tents.

On Sunday the Greek government announced the construction of another 15 new hot spots within the next days with a capacity of up to 17.400 persons in total. They government hopes that through the relocation program some refugees which are stuck in Greece will be resettled to other European countries.

It is late in the night and many people are sleeping while others sit around fires. The latest rumors are shared. Everyone is talking about the expected police raid. Within the next days, or within the next hours… everyone fears that police will forcible remove all refugees from the border and transfer them into Hot Spots and transit camps. On Monday evening a heavy rain and storm started in Idomeni. “This place is about to explode! It’s like sitting on a huge powder keg”, says an Afghan refugee.

The infomobile

... is like a “paper boat”. We chose this as a metaphor for what we want to create and for the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece. The paper boat is a folded boat able to swim – for a while. Then you have to build a new one to go on travelling. A paper boat is symbolic for the journey of life, vulnerable but in your own hands and to be recreated again and again. It is simple, but it carries many hopes and dreams. It can dance on a turbulent sea. It belongs to everybody. And it might become the small version – like a first draft – of a welcome-space.

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