12.04.2016 “We are forgotten here!” A visit to the camp in Filippiada

The Camp is located in the Northwest of Greece, around 4 km outside the town of Filippiada. It is of the main road leading to Ioannina, with lots of traffic. It is situated on a large gravel-covered area. On the other side it faces a dense forest leading towards a river. In order to enter the camp, one has to register with the municipality. The reason given for this procedure: preventing smugglers from entering the camp. There are around 700 people living in the camp, half of which are children. People are sleeping in small tents, which each house around 7 people. In the back there is a paved area with Dixie toilets. There is a large warehouse on the site where volunteers from the close by town Arta distribute clothes and baby food for some hours during the day. Besides that there is nothing.

There are no organisations here, no journalists, the UNHCR has been here once. Now the Pope goes to the Islands. The media is on the Islands and at the border. We are forgotten here!” says A. a Syrian refugee who, like most other refugees, has been in the camp for almost a month. who is eight month pregnant and here with two children has her husband waiting for her in Germany. “I don’t want to give birth here. There are only male military doctors here. I need some proper care!” she exclaims.

While we were visiting the camp, a group of local lawyers came to “inform the people what their rights are.” As they started explaining in a large circle of people that they can ask for asylum or for the relocation program via Skype, the whole circle started laughing. “We have tried to call via Skype many, many times. None of us ever got through! We know we have the right to apply for asylum, but the system is not working.” one of the refugees explained.

Why did the EU close the border?” asked a young couple. “We came because we thought we can seek protection in Europe, but now we are placed here in a tent in the forest with snakes and nothing else. This is no live here!

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11.04.2016

Idomeni

There was another protest in Idomeni this morning. People pushed a train wagon towards the fence and staged a protest on it. However, the Macedonian/FYROM army did not repeat yesterday´s violent actions against the refugees in Idomeni.

 

Visit to the camp in Kyllini

The camp in Kyllini is located in the North West of the Peloponnese in an old beach resort called L.M. Village. It is a small bungalow village right at by sea side. It is situated in an agricultural area. The next small village with a mini marked is half an hour on foot. Two to four families are living in one bungalow together, sharing the bathroom. There are around 300 Syrians in this camp, mainly families and a lot of children.

When we arrived at the camp, kids were playing football and ran around the old playground. A large group of people from Patras was there who brought donations for the people and played with the kids.

People invited us to sit with them in the sun and offered juice. “We are here since ten days. The situation here is much better than it was in Athens. We have our little house and don’t have to sleep in tents. We have hot water to shower. Before we couldn’t wash ourselves for two weeks. But although the situation is good here, we don’t want to stay here. What can we do here? There is no work her, we don’t have any money left and the border is closed for us. What can we do here? There is no future for us here. There are no schools for our children. We want our children to go to school and learn English” one woman from Aleppo explained to us.

R., another woman from Aleppo, whose husband is waiting for her and her seven children in Germany, shares her bungalow with another family with six children. The window to their room and the door to the bungalow are missing. The cold wind from the sea blows right in to their bedroom. “This place is not bad, but at night it is very cold. The authorities promise us every day that they will fix the window and the door tomorrow. But so far nothing happened.” The military brings three meals a day: In the mornings and the evenings a sandwich, for lunch mainly pasta. “The food is not bad, but my kids don’t like the sandwiches, and it’s always the same. I would like to cook my own food for my children. There is even a small kitchen in every house, but there is no gas to cook and no pans” R. explained.

R., as well as many other women in the camp who have their husbands and kids waiting for them in Germany try to get an appointment with the Asylum service. A woman from the Kurdish part of Syria has managed to get through via Skype and has an appointment in a month and a half. The others are still trying. “There is no Internet here, so we have to buy phone credit to make Skype calls. There is no organisation here that explains us what to do. They say that one will be coming, however, nobody has showed up yet. It is hard to wait without knowing for how long” R. summarised the problem of all the refugees stuck in Greece. Whether the living conditions in the camps are better or wore only makes a small difference for the people. The main need of the people is to travel on to a place where they can start their own lives, build a future for themselves and their children and where their loved ones are waiting for them.

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Eviction of the Nea Karvali Camp

As Ali, a refugee in the Nea Karvali camp in the North East Greece reported, the camp was emptied by police today. He reported on Twitter “Most people don´t want to leave” and “People frightened from enforcement.” Half of the people were brought to a camp close to Larissa, while the other half was brought to a newly established camp in the mountains close to Kavala. The situation in the new camp seems to be dire. It is only tents in a forest, people are frightened and they soon discovered the first snake. You can follow Ali on Twitter @AliMBorsan.

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10.04.2016

As several friends from Idomeni have told us, since yesterdays there have been talks about a big collective action to cross the border in to Macedonia and travel on to central Europe. Around 10 am the first protesters gathered on the train tracks. As more people joined the protest a delegation of five people went to the fence and tried to negotiate with the Macedonian/FYROM army. The army reportedly ended the talk with statement that “decisions are taken on an EU level, not here.” Nonetheless, the protestors, taking decisions in to their own hands, tried to forge their way through the border fence. As Z. a young woman from Latakia explained: “A group of young people managed to cut open the fence and enter Macedonian territory. However, as soon as we entered, the Macedonian army fired teargas and stung grenades at us. I received a lot of teargas and almost suffocated. The army tried to arrest us, but luckily we managed to escape back to Greece.”

H., a young woman from Damascus described the situation the following: “The protest started in the morning, and first, some refugees tried to reach an agreement with the army through conversation. But their answer was tear gas. Out of nowhere. That’s how it started. They wouldn’t stop throwing gas bombs at us for 4-5 hours, all afternoon long. The Macedonian army even broke in to Greek territory. People threw stones at army in response to the tear gas.

First, the wind blew the gas back on their territory, but then a strong wind blew the tear gas in to the camp. We couldn’t escape from it. It is like breathing fire. Now it is raining. That’s why the protest stopped.

I went there to see what is happening. I was first in the front, but then went back and then I just saw the tear gas bomb fall in front of me and then I fainted. I don’t know how they can throw it so far. It was very difficult to breath. It was burning like fire. Then, one woman gave me an asthma spray, and I could breath again. It burned so much. It felt like breathing fire. I still feel sick. They also fired rubber bullets at us, at people. And also, they used a water cannon against us. So many people were injured because of the tear gas. It feels like fire. I feel like I have to throw up. Even after I fainted and went back the wind kept blowing the teargas in to the camp, on to our side.

The people here are still angry, they want to continue the protest tomorrow. It only stopped because of the rain.

A Kurdish friend told us: “it’s really really bad because of the tear gas, very bad tear gas. But some people they don’t care, they don’t give up. So now they want to give a strong message to Macedonia to say you are fucking nothing, we will not give up. We hate Macedonia because they have beaten up refugees. The Macedonian soldiers have thrown stones and big rockets of tear gas.”

We condemn the extreme violence of the Macedonia/FYROM authorities against the people in Idomeni. We denounce the closure of the corridor by the EU that created the unbearable situation in Idomeni. We wish the people in Idomeni strength in their struggle for their freedom of movement!

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Picture and Video provided by our friends in Idomeni.

7.4.2016: A visit to the Cherso Camp

At Cherso we were told, that about 2500 people are currently living in the camp. Some weeks ago it were 1000 more, when the camp was full of mud, due to heavy rain. In the camp only 5 showers and 10 toilets are available. New shower containers are already in the camp but not connected yet. Baby milk and pampers are rarely available. Like in Nea Kavala, the camp residents get noodles nearly every day, delivered  by a caterer from Thessaloniki. In front of the camp is a snack car, where people who have money can buy snacks and drinks.

The camp is located in the „middle of nowhere“ and people told us, that snakes and scorpions are being seen permanently. Photos were presented to us, showing snakes which were killed by the residents of the camp. People are very much afraid. A man whom we talked to, said that he already caught a snake inside his tent. Only basic medical treatment is available in the camp. We were informed about a man, who has serious problems with his kidneys and has to go to blood purification more times a week – anyway he lives (or better: lies) in the camp far away from the next hospital.

Like in Nea Kavala, there is no possibility for applying for asylum or/and relocation/resettlement in the camp and the camp residents were told by the military that they have to stay in the camp for at least one year.  Holes are in the fence surrounding the camp, so people can also enter and leave the camp in an informal way.

7.4.2016: A visit to the Nea Kavala Camp

At the moment, about 3500 people are living in the Nea Kavala Camp close to Polykastro – according to official data. But nobody knows, how many people are living there actually. We were told that many people who register in the camp leave from there again after some days and move back to Idomeni or somewhere else without informing the camp administration. In the camp there are several hundred small tents and some big tents.

At the entrance of the camp, the „camp-ID“ or the permission to enter the camp is checked by police/military, but there are already some holes in the fence which is surrounding the camp. Camp residents told us, that they get noodles every day. The persons who have money, can also buy snacks/drinks at a snack car parking on the territory. There are not enough showers and toilettes available. There is no possibility to apply for asylum and/or relocation/resettlement in the camp. For applying for asylum the camp residents have to call – like all other refugees in Greece – the Greek authorities via skype, which is practically not possible. This also means, that people who have close  relatives already living for e.g. in Germany, don’t have any  chance for family reunification under the Dublin-regulation. What is currently going on in Nea Kavala, who is responsible for what and what will happen there in the future is largely unclear. Or in the words of the UNHCR-staff, we met in front of the camp: „Nobody knows nothing“.

6.4.2016


Life as usual in Idomeni, which basically means to wait/line up for something: A new shirt, a hot tea, water, something to eat or just a shower (many, many people in Idomeni did not have a shower for days or even weeks). Apart from that, the sunshine is becoming more and more problematic, especially in the afternoon it is getting extremely hot now in Indomeni, even tough it is only the beginning of April. Places in the shadow are quite rare and people try to cover themselves as good as they could. Hard to imagine, what will happen in the camp when it will become much more hot in the next weeks. However, nearly nobody thinks about leaving the camp in Idomeni voluntarily. Quite the contrary: Today, we saw the first people setting up a small garden in front of their tent and since days a Western Union financial service is in operation in the village. And a side node: Business runs quite well in the nearest small town, Polykastro: Restaurants and cafés are locking for new staff because the entire day they are completely full with international volunteers.

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Staff wanted!
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Camping is permitted here only in the designated areas! Freies Zelten ist untersagt! Seriously?
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Everything starts small. The first garden in Idomeni!
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The Western Union financial service in Idomeni

5.4.2016: A visit to the Diavata camp

In Diavata, a small town 10 kilometres away from Thessaloniki, one of the new „official“ camps is located on the ground of a former military base. The area is surrounded by a fence, which actually can not stop anyone from leaving or entering the camp unofficially, because there are already many holes in it. However, there is an official entrance, where people entering the camp are checked by police/military.  As we were told by them, at the moment there are about 2000 people in the camp now.

A person who is living in the camp told us, that they receive only a juice in the morning and noodles with a bread for lunch – nothing for dinner. Furthermore he reported, that in many tents not only one family is accommodated: In many tents two families are accommodated – in some of them even three. Single men are accommodated in the building on the territory.

4.4.2016

Today was a beautiful sunny day. The camp atmosphere was partly like on a festival:  Volunteers played with the children and humanitarian organizations distributed food. Some little improvised shops have already opened days ago on the main route through the camp, selling vegetables, pots and even hair colors, styling gel or shoes.

But this is only the one side: Behind the fence and the barbed wire, a tank is parked with a machine gun on the top. In addition a water cannon is placed directly behind the now closed door, which was the former entrance to Macedonia.

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Tank with machine gun on the top protection the border

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On our walk along the fence we met a woman who has a husband in Austria. She arrived in Idomeni just one day after the Balkanroute was closed. Now she is trapped in the camp – like many, many others.

Later this day, a group of refugees of different nationalities blocked the entire highway E75 at Hotel Hara some hundred metres away from the official border crossing  and demanded the opening of the border. Hundreds of trucks were blocked. We counted at least 150 trucks. Furthermore, buses and cars were blocked.  Activists supporting the blockade brought warm food and water to support the protest.

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Voices from the blockade (translated from our great Kurdish translator):

Now we are in Europe and animals are treated better than Human beings here.

Anyway, we will stay here. We lost everything. We just can not go back, because we lost everything.

There must be a solution soon, Here are handicapped people, seriously ill people, elderly people and a lot of children.

3.4.2016

Today, a band played in the camp in Idomeni.  Other musicians from the camp joined spontaneously and songs in many different languages were presented.

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In the Idomeni camp
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In the Idomeni camp

The blockade on the highway at the petrol station in Polykastro continued the whole day. Trucks were not allowed to pass – cars could pass by. People showed banners addressing Germany to help them.

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The camp at the Polykastro gas station
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Blockade on the highway at Polykastro
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Blockade on the highway at Polykastro
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Blockade on the highway at Polykastro

 

2.4.2016: The Liveticker is back!

After we have been in Athens for some days, we are back in Idomeni now. Also there have been some changes in the team. However, the camp in Idomeni got much more structured and professionalised, as the ones of us who left Idomeni three weeks ago immediately recognized. Furthermore, there are much more big tents from MSF and small „private“ tents now then three weeks ago. The police is still present with some buses in the camp, but acts very passive, although the railway tracks are blocked since days.

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On the railway tracks in Idomeni
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On the railway tracks in Idomeni

During the day, more than 200 refugees blocked the highway E75 to Thessaloniki. The blockade took place in front of the informal camp at the Polykastro gas station (about 20 kilometres away from Idomeni/the border), where some thousand people are currently living. During the blockade, children were playing football on the highway. In the evening there were still some people and tents on the highway, but cars could pass by. Many people watched the football match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in the shop of the gas station.

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Blockade of the highway in Polykastro
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Blockade of the highway in Polykastro
Blockade of the highway in Polykastro
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Watching the football match in the shop of the gas station in Polykastro

Close to the gas station in Polykastro there is the „official“  camp Nea Kavala, which is located on military ground. Visitors are not allowed to enter and the atmosphere is more tense than in Idomeni, due to police and military presence. Even from outside it is forbidden to take photos of the camp and we were told to leave the area immediately, even though we were not taking photos. Anyway, we will visit the other „official“ camps in Northern Greece the next days and report here.

26.-27.3.2016

Saturday was reigned by the rumours that on Sunday the border to Macedonia/FYROM will be opened.

On Sunday morning several hundred refugees gathered to eventually cross into Macedonia/FYROM. Protest were also reported in Cherso camp. Tensions grew in Idomeni during the morning hours when Greek police increased its presence massively and made clear that there is no border opening to be expected. Meanwhile the police blocked a solidarity aid convoy on the highway. Apparently they were afraid of a possible disturbance into the permanently existing chaos at the camp.

Once again the authorities’ reaction to self-organized protest was to blame activists and volunteers for inciting and instrumentalising protests. In doing so, they denied political subjectivity to refugees and forget that the situation in Idomeni and Greece in general is reason enough to organize protest and to embrace every chance to leave.

The Moving Europe team is leaving Idomeni right now to follow several events in Athens. You can follow us on Twitter (twitter.com/movingeurope) to receive latest updates.

25.3.2016

Today, the Greek government started to put its words – emptying Idomeni without using force – into practice. It sent 20 buses to take  people from Idomeni; apparently to take them to the camps in Katerini and Veroia. Around 500 people are said to have left so far. Our friends in Idomeni however emphasised once again that they will not leave Idomeni, they want to cross the border here.

24.3.2016

In the early morning hours, the people who have been blocking the highway all night decided to clear up their protest. They endured the cold and windy night on the street, making visible their anger with the hopeless situation they are submitted to.

All day, a heavy wind blew over Idomeni, taking with it several small tents. The strong wind makes moving around in the camp a torture. It was impossible to have a conversation outside, and inside the large tents the beating of the tent cover on the metal scaffold made a quiet conversation equally impossible. The harsh weather conditions together with uncertainty of what the best thing to do would be lies heavy over the people in the camp.

Nonetheless, some gathered on the train tracks and staged a small protest with slogans urging Europe to reopen the borders.

Meanwhile the long line of media vans that used to line up on the street towards the camp for the last three weeks have mostly disappeared. The state of exception that the international media was covering frenetically has turned in to normalised everyday life in the refugee camp Idomeni.photo_2016-03-25_11-30-19

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23.3.2016

Several hundred refugees from the close-by Nea Kavala camp have blocked the highway on both lines between Thessaloniki and Macedonia/FYROM. The blockade started around midday and was not ended when the night began. The protestors stated that they cannot live any longer in the camp as the conditions are so bad. But most of all they re-affirmed their will to leave Greece and to travel on, chanting „Open the border!“ all the day.

The blockades are again a very powerful sign of disobedience against the fate which was decided for them by the European Union. Furthermore it shows once more that the EU’s plan to halt the migrations movements to and from Greece is not stable, but highly contested.

In the meantime also the Turkish contribution to the agreements seems less trouble-free than goverments maybe expected: Amnesty International reports that Turkey has forcefully deported 30 Afghans to Kabul without guaranteeing an asylum procedure. Additionally Turkish officials stated that they will not change existing laws to increase refugee protection in their country.

 

22.3.2016

With the decision of the EU-Turkey summit to deport all refuges that arrive on the Greek Islands back to Turkey, a new area of refugee politics has begun. For the people this means less perspective on a life in dignity, more dangerous routes, more hardship, more suffering, and more death.

The situation on the hotspots on the Greek Island is already so bad that the UNHCR as well as Medecins sans Frontieres announced they will no longer assist the authorities there. Most NGOs, volunteers and independent activists are no longer allowed to access the camps, as they have been turned in to prisons. Read more on the Situation in Chios here and here.

With no independent observers present, the breach of the peoples right to claim asylum in Greece appears to be part of the EU plan.

The same accounts for the advocated ‘solution’ for the people still stuck in Greece. The relocation program to which people from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Central African Republic and Swaziland are eligible appears to be design to not work. In order to get an appointment for the program, Arabic speaking people have one hour a week* to call in via Skype. In addition to a working Internet connection, people also have to lucky enough to get through. A friend in Idomeni already tried in the Arabic and the English-speaking slot and was unsuccessful. The same might happen next week. And the week after. People are deliberately kept in limbo.

Not to speak of all the refugees from other countries, whose only legal option is to seek asylum in Greece. A procedure that is equally dysfunctional. Exactly because the asylum procedure does not work, the majority of the EU countries stopped Dublin deportations to Greece.

Cynically, a reason for the dysfunctional system is to be found in the EU austerity measures forced upon Greece. They are not allowed to hire any new state employees to make the asylum procedures work. It seems that the new staff announced on the EU-Turkey summit are supposed to make the hotspots and the deportation process work, not the asylum or relocation process for people already in Greece.

Now Greece, which has proven to be incapable – made incapable – of handling a large amount of refugees, is supposed to deal with the EU’s unwillingness to meet its humanitarian and political obligations. The whole system seems to be designed not to work.

The people are forced to stay in the inhumane conditions of camps such as Idomeni and Cherso on a long term.

Meanwhile, the struggle in Idomeni is continuing. Yesterday and today, two people set themselves on fire in in protest of the hopeless situation they are submitted to. Many others have staged protest on the train tracks. The struggle of the refugees will not stop until there is a dignified possibility for them to move freely to their destination.

 

*Amendment: We learned that people could call in for one hour per week day to apply for the relocation programm and one hour per week for the family reunification. The incertainty about what time to call also showes the notorious chaos of the system and the lack of information available to the people in the camp.

18.3.2016

At least the sun was shining today in the camp after a long period of cold and rainy weather. However, tensions are still high as conditions are not improving and the psychological pressure on the inhabitants of the camp is not decreasing at all. A pressure which is further increased by the people’s high expectations towards the EU summit.

Without having a finalized official statement so far, the dirty deal
between Turkey and the European Union has been decided upon today. Several newspapers already have summarized the important points of the summit (e.g. The Guardian). Despite all criticism towards it, the law-breaking and oppressive framework of the deal has not changed. And after all, for people stuck in Idomeni nothing was achieved during the meeting. None of their high expectations have been met. The only advice Angela Merkel has given to the people in Idomeni is: “I want to take the opportunity to tell the refugees at Idomeni that they should trust the Greek government and move to other accommodation where the conditions will be significantly better”.

Having in mind the apocalyptic pictures from the camp in Cherso, the ridiculous relocation efforts and the determined will of the people to continue their journey, today’s summit has once again shown that the European Union’s answers to the migrants‘ movements can only be implemented by turning Greece into a huge heavily police controlled detention zone, denying all basic rights and legal guarantees.

17.3.2016

The atmosphere in Idomeni today was filled with anxiety and exhaustion.

Anxiety, because people are waiting for the results of the EU-Turkey summit, hoping it will bring any kind of clarification about their situation. However, hopes are not very high.

And exhaustion as the experiences of the march from Monday are still taking their toll. Our friends whom we walked with seem more tired than before. Yesterday people were still recuperating from the sleepless night after the march. Today people were not only tired but also restless. There are increased fights and tensions between people.

Another factor of anxiety and tension was the instalment of around 8 new containers in the area close to the border gate. The installation of the containers entailed an increased number of police officers in the camp. In addition to the usual black-clad officers, today there were also ones in different, military style olive-green uniforms.

Disillusion could also be heard in the increased talk about paying smugglers to bring them away from Greece. All of this, is what EU politicians’ decision to close the corridor has brought upon people.

 

 

16.3.2016

Some facts to get the events of Monday the 14th of March straight, when around 2000 refugees marched to Macedonia/FYROM from Idomeni camp, Greece.

  • As reported correctly by several media outlets such as Balkan Newsbeat and the telegraf.mk on the morning of the 14th, at around 6:45 AM three people were reported dead at the police station in Gevgelija. They died of drowning, in the Suva Reka river southern Macedonia. 23 other people were rescued.
  • These deaths occurred in the night before the march took place. They were reported in the morning before the march had set off.
  • The route of the march did not follow the itinerary indicated on the flyer, which was allegedly distributed in the camp before the march set off.
  • The flyer we saw in the press after the march contained several false allegations and misleading information. It was stated for example that the probability of Idomeni camp being evacuated was high and that refugees would be deported back to Turkey. This has nowhere been officially announced nor confirmed.

We denounce the media’s total lack of consideration for the chronology of the events as well as their erroneous reporting. Furthermore, we condemn the allegedly distributed flyer for being fear-mongering and misleading.

We would like to add that it is insulting to those who took their destiny into their own hands and took the decision to march together, to think that a flyer could be the sole cause of their decision-making. The violence of the border closure in Idomeni as well as the squalid living conditions people have been subjected to are themselves good enough reasons to decide to take collective action. What is more, people have been walking together and defying border regimes for months now as it was the case in Serbia in October and Hungary in the summer of 2015. We urge the media to focus on the fact that over 2000 people took collective action to find their own way to central Europe. And crucially, that Macedonia/FYROM violently and illegally pushed them back to Greece, without giving them the possibility to ask for international protection.

15.03.2016

The Moving Europe team has gathered testimonies of people who crossed into Macedonian/FYROM territory after having taken part in a march of several hundred refugees from Idomeni camp in Greece. Near the village of Moin, Macedonia, independent observers were separated from the refugees by Macedonian military. The statements below describe the events that took place after this separation. These are testimonies from people the Moving Europe team marched with and visited again today. These people have all been pushed back illegally from Macedonia to Greece, without having been given the possibility to ask for international protection.

The first testimony is of a family of five; two adults and three children one of which is a three-month old baby. When they crossed through to Macedonia, the crowd they were in was separated into groups of about 50 people and were made to sit on the ground. Guarded by the military, they were made to sit for 10 hours outside.  They were not given any food and when they asked for water the military refused their request, even when it was to mix the water with powder for the baby’s milk.  They witnessed both women and men being beaten by the army. After the long wait, they were brought to a hole in the border fence and pushed through it back to Greece. They could see the hotel close to the official car and truck border crossing in the distance so they started walking towards it because they knew it was close to the camp. The walk back to Idomeni camp lasted 1 hour.

The second statement comes from an elderly couple, a man and a woman, who both have a heart condition. They crossed the border to Macedonia and were stopped by the army. They were kept in the village close to where they were stopped for several hours together with a group of about 100 people. At first, they were outside in the cold and wet. Then they say they were taken to some kind of shelter, where it was still very cold. Here, police and military were drinking alcohol, laughing a lot and making fun of them. The army would beat whoever spoke up against them in this setting. All the people were then loaded into an old truck and brought to the fence. Here, the couple saw the soliders cut a hole in the fence. Whilst they were being pushed back to Greece, the soldiers insulted them with animal names such as cow, dog and donkey. They also told them they were “Muslim dogs”. The walk back to the camp took them around one hour.

D, a young man told us that he crossed the river, walked some more and ended up in a village where there was Macedonian military. The military divided him and the other he was with into big groups. There were no NGOs nor the UN where they were made to wait. Eventually, the military brought them to a car and the car brought them back to the border. From the border D walked back to the camp in Idomeni. When he came back to his friends in the camp, they told him they were beaten up by the police on the Macedonian side and were told never to come back to Macedonia. He was back at the camp at 6 o’clock in the evening but he said that many kept coming all through the night, until around 2AM.

After having crossed into Macedonia, M was separated from the journalists and the activists he was with. The group he was a part of was made to sit for seven hours on the ground in the village. Whilst they were waiting in the cold, he said the group tried several times to start a fire. At first the military did not allow them to, but in the end they succeeded. “Either they would have killed us or we would have just died of the cold” he declared, “so we managed to make the fire, despite the military not wanting us to”. After seven hours waiting outside, M’s group was transported in old trucks “like the ones I saw in the films of the second war”, to a location in the mountains. M estimated that the drive lasted 30 minutes. Then the army cut a hole in the fence and pushed the people back onto Greek territory. He then had to walk for about 15 kilometres, a 4 hour walk in total, back to Idomeni camp. He ended his statement by saying “whether we make it to Europe with the relocation program or by another way, I am sure we will find our way to Europe because we are smart. The life of a refugee is very dangerous and adventurous”. M would like to write a book about his “miserable adventures” someday.

14.3.2016

BREAKING: A new #marchofhope has just started from the Idomeni camp to find a way towards Macedonia. Moving Europe is joining the march, reporting that more than 1.000 people are participating (see their tweets on the right side of this page).

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13.03.2016

Just when we thought the conditions in Idomeni could not get any worse, they have. The rain keeps pouring down. The rivers of the region are bursting their banks and the mud is everywhere. The border is closed and people are still trying to figure out solutions for themselves, amongst the total lack of information and transport options which are available to them.

In the morning, there were protests in the camp against the distribution center. The people further illustrated that they did not want food, only for the border to open. The distribution center closed after the protests. There were also reports of protests in Polykastro, at the gas station.

The very few UNHCR members of staff onsite Idomeni are directing people to the military-run accommodations camps of the region. They say that there, the conditions are better and that people will be able to apply for the European Union relocation program. Of the five camps, which were announced in the mainstream media a few weeks ago, only two are in use at the moment. Drosato and Kentriko, two of the names cited, are not even in the beginning stages of construction and it is unclear if they will ever be built. Meanwhile, Nea Kavala, the camp closest to Polykastro has already reached its capacity. Right now it is hosting 3200 people. Furthermore the infamous gas station at Polykastro has regained importance: Around 1000 people seek shelter in the already existing infrastructures.

In Cherso, there are already 3700 people, but there is still some space for people to be lodged. But recommending anyone to go to this place would be perverse. There is about 20 centimetres of mud, caking the ground of the whole camp, including the insides of tents. The food that has been distributed there for the past days was cold and out of date. There is trash everywhere. And there are absolutely no NGOs to be seen. The UNHCR came a few days ago, walked around and left. The relocation registration promised in Idomeni by the UNHCR consists in one abandoned small white booth, forgotten in a desolate corner of the camp, next to the military quarters’ tent. The empty booth signals the wider fact that there is simply no one to talk to, to speak about your options as a refugee there. And it is yet another hint that the relocation program, however much it is spoken about, is nowhere to be found. Cherso camp is in the middle of nowhere, secluded from any form of support, whether humanitarian or legal.

The only ways to reach both of these camps is by taxi or private transport. The military says that people have to come there out of their own will, “because this is not a transit camp. The people will be here for longer.”. If all these places resemble anything, it is not a long term solution. People – both refugees and local citizens – will not accept to be kept in such conditions. There are already initiatives from the later to organise investing local inhabited houses. And people who are not satisfied by the option of the unpromising relocation program and wish to continue their journey to central Europe, will find their own way, some way or another.

Some impressions from Cherso and Polykastro  gas station today:

12.03.2016

As the rain is not forecast to stop until Wednesday, the small tents scattered around the fields in Idomeni continue to be more and more entrenched in the mud. Further bigger tents are being erected to host people, but still a huge amount of people do not even have wooden palets underneath their minimal shelter.

The UNHCR is not registering people for the EU relocation within Idomeni camp. Instead, people are vaguely directed to the other camps in the region – with no clear indication of how to make their way – to register there. These camps are run by the military and are not closed, but access to independent observers is restricted. This is currently not the case in Idomeni where no such registration procedures exist. It is unclear what is planned with these camps. But their architecture – enclosed by a fence, with only limited access points – and especially the fact that they are heavily controlled by the authorities, raises the question as to how long they will remain open.

Despite the terrible weather and the border closure, many people are refusing to leave Idomeni. Their demands are not for better living conditions, food or for relocation elsewhere. Their steadfast claim is that the border needs to open.

11.3.2016

The situation in the camp hasn’t changed. People still hope for the border to open as there is no information given to anyone. For now the rain has stopped, but the camp is still very muddy and as soon as the rain starts again, it is impossible to walk and build up more tents.

It is outrageous that so  many people who would so obviously be eligible for international protection are unable to access the most basic rights in this miserable setting. So much of the media focus has been on the very young who are stuck in the mud. But what also strikes us is that the elderly who made the dangerous journey to Greece are now trapped and have very little idea and means to continue on. For some, the simple act of walking is very hard. Whilst promises of free UNCHR buses have yet to materialise, the only place accessible by transport is Athens for 25euros per person with a private bus company. It is still extremely unclear how and even if one can access the other camps in the surroundings.

Meanwhile, Greekreporter.com  reports that a violent eviction of the camp is not planned so far.

 

On the 18th of November 2015, Slovenia closed its borders for refugees who are not from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. Just a little later, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia also adopted this practice of segregation. There is little doubt about that this policy was pushed by the European Union as a starting point for slowing down or even stopping the flow over the Balkan route. Thousands of refugees were stuck in Eidomeni, Greece, and started to protest. The Moving Europe Bus was on the spot and reported live from the 22nd of November to the 11th of December 2015 – when the camp had been evicted. On the 5th of February 2016, we decided to restart our live-ticker as the new year has already seen several attempts from the European Union to slow down the migration movement towards Europe. Macedonia seems to become a key player in this strategy. For several weeks the Macedonian border authorities have slowed down the transit process. The predictable effect of this, given the high arrival numbers to the Greek islands, is that thousands are becoming stuck in Greece. On the 3th of February the Macedonian government announced its plans to strengthen border controls which will further reduce the speed of the transit process. In the meantime, the Greek authorities have established a new buffer zone near to Eidomeni. Since the camp at the border has already become highly overcrowded, there are fears that the violent scenes of last December in Eidomeni will be repeated. Therefore the authorities have decided that people should be kept at bay, at a gas station on the highway that is 20 km far away from the border (at Polykastro). For weeks migrants have had to stay there for hours under miserable conditions. Since the end of January the situation at the Greek border zone has escalated once more. There is only a trickle of people being let through to Macedonia and now people at the gas station have to wait for days before their buses finally leave towards the border. On the 3rd of February 2016 thousands of them decided not to wait any longer at the petrol station and started to walk towards the Macedonian border (#marchofhope 2). Further protests and tensions are to be expected. The Moving Europe Bus is on the spot since the 2nd of February and reports live from Polykastro and Eidomeni.