Last days of Idomeni

In the border between Greece and Macedonia, the largest refugees camp was being settled as a town despite the effort the government was doing  to take it apart

Mamon Hassan walks around Indomeni's rail tracks every morning. He grabs a piece of paper and writes a sentence down. Today it says: "Our life here would be like 'Prison Break's'", that tv show about innocent people condemned to death penalty. He asks someone to take a picture of him with the piece of paper and he hangs it on the mural. And then he keeps wandering aimlessly.

The train station remains closed until further notice. The greek transportation company cancels every train between Thessaloniki and Belgrade, going through Macedonia and they are running substitution buses to cover that route. A blue and old bus got stuck onto the tracks, and a grup of people settled down on it. They get their clothes dry in the windows and sleep amongst the seats. Their home is a stopped train.

 

Idomeni is just a train stop between Greece and Macedonia. In the town live exactly 150 people within scattered little houses and is settled at the edge of the road that leds to the station.

Living in one of these houses we find Panagiota Vasileiadou, a 82 year-old-woman that has gained the nickname of "the refugees grandma". She recalls being herself a kid of refugees, since her parents had to escape from Turkey and how they set their house on fire during the World War II. She hosts five people at her house, she makes their meals for lunch and dinner everyday and uses up all her retired 450 euros monthly pension.

 

 

 

The bar on wifi

Few metres from the houses there's placed the station canteen. The trains won't run, but its bar has never been so full. A greek married couple runs the place serving drinks and sandwitches, but the main claim is wifi coverage and their plugs are too overload to provide every phone with electricty. The tables are full of young people who can't wait to be online and know. They check last news from Europe and send messages to their friends and relatives settled in the official refugees camps. "The greek government's not aware that refugees persons use WhatsApp", says a volunteer girl. There's a letter with governamental stamp running all over the camp that suggests to get out of Idomeni and settle into the military camps. But the ones on this last camp advice the everyone to not hear at this suggestion.

Idomeni is the resistance. If these refugees people leave, they'll become invisible. And this happens to be the authorities strategy: to dissolve the human drama, what has become a flagrant situation in Idomeni, into a small camp net controlled by the army. They plan to spread them all over the country and rip them apart until they can't be seen. Within the military camps you find in and out traffic registers, the press wouldn't be allowd within these camps and only international non-profit organisations would have access: single volunteers won't.

Doctors Without Borders organisation rule in Idomeni. They pay for the rent of the camp to the owner, they provide food to the refugees, they do also have two big tops with beds inside for people who can't afford their own living structures and they do also pay for cleanning staff so they keep the camp in good and healthy conditions.

It must be said that without independent volunteers and small non-profit organisations Idomeni's camps would be unsustainable. People from all over Europe get into these camps and ask how could they be useful. A group of four catalan firemen requires extra people to help deliver two metric tons of vegetables everyday. They need at least 20 people. There's this other group of firemen from Murcia and one from Navarra, who distribute wood for people to make their own fires. These last few days, they explain they've been quite pushed and controlled by the greek authorities about their activity. The catalan group have been stopped by the pocile to check their working recipes and the ones from Navarra have struggled to get into the camp with wood.

Volunteering cooperation

Marc Andreu, a fireman from the Emergency Rescuement Firemen Department of Catalunya, tells how they could tell right away they'd need to cooperate with other organisations. "We all are firemen, we all do the same things and, logistically, cooperation can be really interesting" he says. But volunteers from other organisations say " Idomeni's a chaos", because " communication between organisations is non-existent and each ones does its own thing". This is when lack of coordinations and duplicities come up. In one side of the camp, for instance, there are two treatment rooms one next to each other. And, for every single consultation, you must be in a different line.

This lines are Idomeni's despair. Ibin is 27 years old and his from Alep, Siria. She used to dream about becoming a lawer and now she's on a line to get some milk and cookies for her two kids: "These lines are my daily basis routine: in the morning to get breackfast, at noon to get lunch and everytime I need to go to the restroom".

Aziz is 23 years old, he's from Homs, Siria, and he want to make it to Sweden. While he's waiting in line, he wonders: "Where's the european humanity? They said there was humanity in Europe, but we can't get to see it". There's a fence on both sides of the food line and a roof too: it's such a chicken coop. "We're humans not animals", claims Aziz.

Idomeni's full of lawers, proffessors, journalists and engineers. There you have Siria's middle class population living poorly, since it's the only people who could afford paying for those nonsense prices just to get from border to border. There's this interesting thing within these places: you won't see no luggage. Those people who made it to the camps they had to travel with no lugagges so they could fit in these little boats to go across the straits that divides Turkey from the greek island Lesbos.

Those who still own some money struggle thinking on how to manage with it. A young sirian boy explains he does have 1000 euros in the bank, and he is required to pay 3000 euros if he wants a fake passport. He is increasingly convinced to find a way to get those 2000 no matter what and give it a try. He's got a brother in Germany and wants to head there. In Idomeni he lives with his parents. They'll stay in a military camp until they can legally be all toghether. Another broken family.

Aside the train rails, there's an unpaved road. It's become the main street of Idomani. Women and men walking constantly and there's a market stablished sorrounding this street. You'll find food, retail, drinks and smoking little shops, and even a falafel one. There's a man who has placed a strong paper box on the ground, as a seat, and left scissors and a comb on top of if: he's the official barber in Idomeni. Somehow, there's an increasing local economy. This is no longer a one day's camp, but a settled growing town.

Those campfire emiting gas

At dinner time some campfires are started from side to side of the camp. When there's flame you can get warm and kill the cold. When there's just hot coal left, they use them to cook. Refugee people would burn whatever, wether it's wood or not. They'd burn pieces of clothes, plastic things, camp holders if they had to. "This burnt stuff irritates the airways and eyes and they cause otitis", explains Miquel Farrés, a doctor from Terrassa who has arrived to Greece as an independent volunteer. Idomeni's population is quite young, because people have been moving to military camps, hence most of the diseases are minor. "But we find so many musle and joint problems, and those are the living and sleeping under tops results: so many injuries are related to the border traffic: many people having tried to jump the fence out have been injuried with cuts and browses", he says.

Another doctor, Lara, she works for Team Humanity, another non-profit international organisation founded just to attend the refugees crisis. She would attend the patients within a medical stand in Indomeni and says that, further the diseases, there are so many people going to the doctor "mostly because they need someplace to lie on, explain their situation and feel listened". There's an enormous feeling of sadness and frustration in here, but at the same time you find big gestures of grattitude. Many people say to me "You know where my tent is" and, to me, listening to this breaks my heart because it feels like homeless people open there non existent houses to me", she sais.

And then, the kids. It's been calculated aproximately the 40% of these camps population are to be children. About 200 kids come in everyday to the Cultural Centre of Idomeni, a haima turned into a madrassah (school in arabic). The rest of them, a few thousands, they get no education and spend the day running and playing amongst the tents. "We can't run the risk of creating pain to a whole generation" tell Didac, Maisda and Xabi, the three founder of this project. They warn this centre is a bubble pero they also say "in an emergency case, bubbles are so necessary for kids". School classes are run by refugees who used to be teachers back at their countries.

And, from time to time, they are visited by musicians, clowns or any kind of artists as the catalan ilustrator Lara Costafreda, who went there by the begining of May to teach an intensive art class. "The most shocking thing is seeing the kids in class always with a big smile and willing to hug you constantly", she recalls.

Outside the camp, there are two or three buses permanently placed. They are owned by the company Crazy Holidays and they are about to transfer some people from this camp to the official ones. No one has realised of the obscenity of the sign. Next to it there's a group of youngsters, eachone carrying a bag. It is getting dark and they are heading Macedonia willing to secretly go across the border. They head to the very heart of Europe, which to them is the only possible remaining future.

Text
Xavi Rosiñol

Photo
José Antonio Rodríguez

Foto 1: The tents in the camp of Idomeni were spread even on the rail tracks once they became useless
Foto 2: Two kids playing with ropes next to the last train that went across Idomeni and which remains stopped in the middle of the refugees camp
Foto 3: A painting onto a tent claiming relocation (We want to go to Germany)
Foto 4: A nomad tent embraces the cultural centre of Idomeni, which is a school and a playing place for kids in the camp