Idomeni is a small village in the north of Greece. A group of houses in the middle of the countryside, rounded by fields, at some hundred meters from the border with FYROM. Close to Idomeni whole families of migrants live in the woods, waiting, and attempting to cross the border and leave Greece. Every day tens of migrants of every gender and every age come in this strip of land, finding improper shelters to pass the nights. Some of them are in Greece since years, and speak a basic Greek, others are just arrived, all of them are trying to reach the Central Europe. The majority of them are Asians, especially Syrians and afghans.
The final destination of everyone seem to be Germany. The route of this hidden way of immigration isn’t fixed. In the Balkans border’s vulnerability change, and the traffickers change their route with according to it. In their case, once got to enter Fyrom the next step is Serbia, after Hungary, from which you can go to Slovenia and then enter Italy, or Slovakia, Czech Republic and Austria to try to reach the “dream”: Germany. “There we can find a job” a young Afghan, escaped because of the war and recently entered in Greece from Turkey, says. Almost everyone come through Turkey, crossing the Evros river. The traffickers who manage the migrant business in that border are for the most part Turks. They ask to pay between 800 and 2000 Euros in order to have a seat on a improper boat, usually an inflatable raft, and get the Greek bank of the river. During the winter, when some sections of the river freeze, the danger to not reach the other bank of it is even higher. Another Afghan, who lives since two months in the woods of Idomeni, lost his wife during the crossing. When she fell into the water he begged the traffickers to stop and try to search for her, they replied that if he didn’t stop they would have thrown in the water both him and his children two and four years old. Another young migrant, from Ivory Coast told us that one of the two inflatable raft with which they were crossing the river was damaged. “The passengers shouted for help, the boat sink and we couldn’t see any of them after it”.
Those who get to cross the river often try to continue their long journey and Idomeni (400 kilometres far from the Turkey-Greece border), its woods, the Vardar river, represent their next challenge. Some migrants try to cross the border using the railway that pass along those woods. They hide themselves under the trains and in the last three months two people died, crush by the train. They are hundreds living along the border, divided in small groups, often by nationality. They are lying in wait that the traffickers get to let them pass, or trying by themselves. Like a young Syrian, around twenty years old, we met there. He’s entered Greece one month before and he intends to go to Germany. He lost sight of his broche during the long journey, “we will meet again in Germany”, said us with certainty.
In the woods of Idomeni, hundreds of them live in the same conditions, suffering for the cold, the hunger, the thirst, with insecure health conditions, left to their own devices. Yet there is someone who has begun to help them. Individual people, some association, has started to collect and bring them food, blankets, cloche, medicines. On Sunday 18 of January we joined one of these “caravan of solidarity”. Departing from Thessaloniki, with “Stop the Racism” and the doctors of “Social Practice”, and stopping over Kilkis, where other local associations join us, we went up until Idomeni. Around twenty cars, full of food, clothes, shoes, blankets, medicines, some toys for the children. At first we stopped to the centre of Idomeni and a delegation went to the police office before to go to the woods. Through the small path we reached three-four group of migrants, living them the things the associations collected during the week.
However “even if we had whole containers, - said us Vassilis Tsartsanis, a journalist resident in the area- they couldn’t solve the problem of these people. They are waifs of the bureaucracy, of the traffickers, they have created a huge ‘money feast’. The police in Skopje often beat them. We have provided shelter to people with open heads, broken arms. They have no blankets, in the cold”. “Every time we go there, we get cold – said a young student who since two months tries to help those people - when we came in December, it was very cold. We went there for a few hours and I felt my legs numb from the cold. And I remember once, it started having a very strong wind and I heard a baby crying, it cried so loudly because it was scared and cold, and we left. We went to the car and turned on the air conditioning, and I said, what do these people do out there?”. We asked the doctors of social practise about the common healthy problems that they have seen among the migrants. Viruses and common colds, problems with their stomachs, gastroenteritis, caused mostly by the lack of drinking water and the bad use to drink from the river. Some men have bruises and hematomas, “they said they were beaten by the police from here (Greece) or there (Fyrom) but nothing serious” told us one of the doctors.
The situation is alarming, and even if with the spring the meteorological conditions will be better, for the same reason more and more people will try to cross the border. Find a proper solution is not easy and it includes also political decisions and the general immigration policies in Greece and Europe. However the care of the people and the civil society might give relief, as the experience we described shows. Some of the volunteers told us that lots of people don’t understand why they are doing that, why, with all the problems Greece and Greeks are having, to help someone who is just crossing your country. They are migrants, people who travel in very bad ways and condition to escape from something. They are victims of the poverty or the war in their home countries. They are trying to pass the borders to reach a place where to start a new life. We should try to break the border of the indifference and lend them a helping hand.