My Refugee Journey – Day2 at Idomeni
Day started about 10am, I would say that those that can afford to buy some of their own food don’t bother getting up for breakfast and lay in, some don’t get up until 11am… I guess they could be thinking what is the point of getting up? On day one I was invited to stay with a Syrian family so I was first offered breakfast by Fatama who is Anwar’s sister, she made me a nutella bread roll, now in many countries its rude to decline something offered to you such as food, especially when they have so little. I had to explain if I eat anything with nuts I will end up in hospital, so I was offered a cheese roll which I said yes please to.
After breakfast Anwar and his family often go for a walk around the camp, so I joined them on this lovely sunny day. At the far end of the camp, almost where I entered the camp on day one, there is a tea tent, so we all stopped for a cup of tea before Anwar asked if he could show me where they buy some of their food. What I saw was amazing, something I never thought I’d see, it was a mini thriving economy, not of locals selling produce, but refugees who’ve had a little money to buy stock and then sell it on for a little profit, there are several cigarette sellers, a fresh fruit and veg stall, and even stalls selling hot food like chicken wraps etc.
A couple of units in the building that was once the train station are now small shops with a couple of the Greek locals who have set up a sort of internet cafe/shop selling soft drinks like coke, ice cream, coffee, tea, chocolate and crisps etc… But sold at quite a mark up, again an example where the local population of a country have taken advantage of refugees. For example a can of coke in Greece cost about 50cents to 60cents in a shop, but here they are selling a can of coke to the refugees for 1euro.
After a short visit to the camps little market, we head back to the tent and on the way Anwar explains he can hear many of the refugees around us talking about the border opening with Macedonia, the atmosphere is buzzing with the refugees talking with hope that they may now be able to move on with their journey. But by the time we get to the area where there are a few huts with MSF etc, we find that it was just a rumour. But the rumour has started a protest outside the UNHCR hut with shouts ‘We are human’ ‘Open the border’ and then the atmosphere gets a little more angry, one of the refugees is threatening to kill himself and some of the refugees start to bang hard on the hut, ripping down all the signage and information posters about a new refugee camp opening close by.
Shortly after the protest moves to the border fence line of Greece/Macedonia where a few small children lay down on the track pretending to be dead with a protest poster laying on top of them, by now press have got wind of what’s happening and the riot police are kitted up with the riot shields and gas masks at the ready. The protest is peaceful with just chants of ‘Open the border’ etc… but after about half an hour a small group of young refugees bring a large folded up tent up to the track, I guess it has some sort of protest message on it or maybe they are going to throw it over the razor wire to make it easier to climb the border fence, but all they do is lay it on the track… The Greek police don’t like this and start to move forward and push the refugees back with force, they don’t hit any of the refugees and at one point when a refugee falls over, the police stop to allow the refugee to get up and get out of the way, but then the pushing and use of force begins again.
The whole scuffle lasts for about 10mins… I call it a scuffle, it wasn’t a riot, there probably wasn’t even 100 refugees protesting. As the scuffle start to come to an end, the police and the refugees negotiate backing off from one another and the protest turns back to peace and sitting on the tracks chanting again.
After the scuffle with the police I head back off with Anwar and his family. I get my wallet and head off to find anyone going to the local town, I say local, its actually 17km away! Before I left Macedonia, I asked for various advice from people that had been there like getting hold of euros and I was told no problem… Yeh, no problem if you have a car to get to Polykastro, the nearest town with a cash point machine! Luckily I find a group of MSF that are heading to the town, so I hitch a ride. I get enough euro’s to live on for a while and get me back to Macedonia and then head to a cafe to use the internet and get on the Idomeni Facebook pages in hope there is someone heading back to Idomeni from Polykastro, but no, so I am left with no choice but to pay 25euro to a taxi driver to take me back. Whilst I was in the town I also went to the shop to buy some food to make a meal for the family I’m staying with for their hospitality they have shown me.
Once back a young boy comes up to me asking if I want to play poker, I say if you want to teach me I will play as to be honest I’m not very good at most card games. The boy then says 100euro, I look puzzled at him, he says again 100euro, I then work out that this young boy who can’t be more than 12yrs old wants to play cards for money, and bet 100euro. At that point I say, firstly I don’t have 100euro and also there’s no way I’m getting hustled by some 12 year old card shark! The adults around me laugh.
That evening/night I spend the time chatting to a few of the men in the tent and am invited by a few of them to play cards, this time not for money. When chatting to some of the guys, one explains he lived under the control of ISIS for over one year in his town, another said he had been put in prison by Assad because he was part of the original student uprising in Aleppo and another said he had fled after being conscripted into the Syrian Army, I asked about this as my thinking was if you want to have the best life in Syria, its to be on the side of Assad and be in his army, as being in the army myself back in the UK, I know we are treated very well, given good accommodation and food… But not in the Syrian Army. Training, if you can call it that is, here is a uniform, here is an AK-47, this is how you shoot it and two weeks later you are on the front line of a war!
These terrified young lads being forced to fight against their own countrymen, face huge dangers and I was told that about 100 Syrian soldiers are killed per week! So many often flee before or after they are conscripted into the Syrian Army.
After some really interesting talks with some of the guys I head for bed ready for day 3 inside Idomeni Camp.