My Refugee Journey – 4th May 2016 | Day 1 in Idomeni
After talking to a taxi driver in Macedonia close to the border with Greece, we agreed for him to drop me off in view of the refugees in Idomeni from the Macedonia side of the border… This was for me to be able to see from an angle that you don’t see in the media, from the eyes of the Macedonian Police looking out on the refugees of Idomeni.
Instead the taxi driver dropped me off at the official border crossing point, some 5km from Idomeni… So disappointed I continued on foot into Greece and on to Idomeni, along the way about 1km i see what looks like refugees walking towards me from the Macedonian border, as they reach me, they stop and chat to me for a few minutes, they have tried to cross the border and were turned back by Macedonian Army. They are now wanting to get to Idomeni, they have already been walking north through Greece for 25km. I tell them I am walking to Idomeni and if they want to walk with me I would love their company.
So about 20 of us walk towards Idomeni along the road, one of the lads is a 15yr old boy, hes lost him parents to Russian bombs, he is the only member of his family left, he has nothing and no one… With about 1km to go, we head off the road and walk along the train track and about 500m I see the start of the wall of tents, it hits you like a freight train, the sheer size of what is getting closer and closer. As I reach the camp, I say camp but Idomeni is not actually a refugee camp, its an area that has been taken over by thousands of refugees.
Walking into the camp area, I see refugees have taken over what looks like it was once the train station building, all the rail carriages have become home to refugees, tents everywhere. I have not seen anything like this on this scale since travelling to Africa and going to refugee camps there. Nothing in Europe I’ve been to so far has anything on right here right now… This is something that should not be happening, I’ve no words to explain how bad things are from where I am standing right now… And back in the UK we complain about a minimum wage! Here they have nothing but I still see a glimmer of hope behind the smiles as I walk further into the camp.
As I walk I’m approached by not only the children, but adults too, they see by large rucksack, they’ve seen nothing like it and are fascinated by the size of it, they are also fascinated by my walking stick, a simple thing but to many of the kids they look at it and think its the coolest thing they’ve seen today.
I walk past an area where it looks like they issue food to the refugees, Praxis is the organisation that seems to operate this… I bump into a small group of Syrian refugees who welcome me and offer me tea, as we chat one of the guys Anwar asks where am I sleeping tonight, I say I have no clue as I’ve only just got here, so he says there is a spare bed in the large tent he and his family are staying and invites me to stay.
The tent is one of the UNHCR large tents, there is about 150 refugees in the tent, there are sort of bunk beds made up, and the only privacy is a few large UNHCR grey blankets set up between some of the beds… Men, women and children all occupy this tent of which there are several more. I am introduced to Anwar’s family, his sister and his two little girls aged 4yrs and 7yrs, they are very cute kids and very cheeky and funny, I get a tub of Pringles out from my rucksack and offer to the kids which brings a great big smile to their little faces…
Later, Anwar and his sister offer me food, they have very little, they’ve lost everything back home, job, house, car and for Anwar he has also lost his wife and one of his children to bombs from Assad, when I here this I do everything I can to hold back the tears, I don’t mind telling you the intensity of emotion is hard to fight off. Most of the evening talking to some of the refugees I’ve heard the most awful things and the sadness of the stories is hard to cope with.
Another group of kids walk over and a couple of adults, they offer me toilet roll, shampoo, more food and even cotton buds… They have nothing yet they are still offering me things, I try to tell them I have money, I’ve already eaten, that I’m OK and don’t need these things but they still want to give to me.
Later before I settle down to sleep I sit and chat to Anwar, hes highly intelligent, would love to take his children to live in England, to live in London, to show them how polite people live, I laugh saying not all people in England are polite and certainly not so much in London… There are good and bad people in every country and England is no exception. Anwar is a computer engineer, I call him a Geek and he laughs, he was also studying computer programming and knows how to make computer chips that run computers. He is not someone that would come to Europe wanting to take benefits and scrounge from the state like a few people have been commenting on my posts to my Facebook recently, he is hard working, honourable and loves his kids.
He tells me a little about his journey here, and a bit about Syria and how he feels Syria is lost forever, He believes Syria will never recover from this, even if Assad is removed and ISIS is wiped out, he thinks another ten groups will want to just move in and take control and power of the country. On his way to Turkey, he and his family passed through the Free Syrian Army controlled area and because he refused to join the Free Syrian Army, they arrested him and put him in prison for 6months. As he was arrested, he told his sister to take his kids and head to Turkey without him and hoped to join them later.
After 6months in prison, Anwar was reunited with his sister and kids in Turkey and together they headed to Greece. They have now been stuck in Idomeni for three months and see no way of getting any further, they have tried to enter Macedonia 4 times now and each time they have been turned back, he says he will try again in a few days, even though he doesn’t hold much hope he will still try, he has nothing to lose by trying and everything to gain by getting into Europe in his eyes.
It is now 2am, I’m going to get my head down for some sleep, I hope the WiFi works tomorrow as it doesn’t seem to work today, so can’t update how I’m doing.