Fear and desperation at Idomeni crossing

Flames and smoke rise after a fight between Kurds and Arab Syrians at their makeshift camp in the northern border village of IdomeniImage copyright

Image caption

Clashes have sometimes broken out between refugees as well as with border police

The wind is brutal at Idomeni.

It brought the tear gas fired by Macedonian border police into tents where young families were trying to shelter. The loud bangs as they go off and the fumes that choke their children, a harsh reminder of the life they’re trying so hard to flee.

Nizar is from Syria. He has three daughters, the youngest just two. He has bruising from the rubber bullet he says hit him yesterday.

He tells me everyone was so happy and hopeful when they heard the border would open. When they made their way to the border gates they were shocked by the gas.

“How can that happen?” he asks. “We were so joyful. Then suddenly all the girls were crying. We’ve fled Syria so we know planes and shelling and here we’ve got the same shock. His six- and four-year-old daughters Noor and Aya stand quietly at his side. “They were just so afraid”.

‘Open the borders!’

Two police buses block the railway track that runs through the centre of the Idomeni camp leading to the border gates.

I ask a Greek policeman on duty there if he thinks things are calmer today. He smiles and tells me: “Yes. Everything is OK today. Not like yesterday. Yesterday was different. Something was going to happen.”

And things do feel relatively calm. The wind rips noisily at tarpaulin on the ground, the remnants of tents it tore down overnight. But children play seemingly oblivious in the dirt. And slightly older boys proudly show off their collections of teargas canisters and rubber bullets.

Image copyright

Image caption

Some children at the camp have made collections of tear gas canisters left after the frequent confrontations with security forces

But within minutes of our conversation, the noise of an angry crowd is attracting attention. Thirty or so young men are pushing others on a railway wagon up the now disused track. Tents are swept out of the way as they pick up speed, moving towards the buses blocking its path.

They shout: “Open the borders! Open the borders!”

Riot police move in and there is a stand-off. Stones and canisters are passed to the men and boys on top. A smoke grenade goes off. For a while things look like they will get nasty again.

But suddenly, as if bored with the Greek border police, the crowd heads away from the tracks to the fence, to make the same demand of the Macedonian border police on the other side: “Open the border!”

The sound of water cannon being readied is enough to make them decide they’ve had enough of this too – for now.

Image copyright

Image caption

Aid workers say there is little prospect of people moving away from the border crossing

Migrants ‘won’t leave’

Emmanuel Massar from the medical charity Doctors Without Borders says this is likely to be a common occurrence.

There are still more than 11,000 people desperate to get out of this dirty makeshift camp. There is still no sign of the border opening. And life is still tough.

The only way living conditions will improve here, he says, is if there are fewer people. The Greek government wants people to move to 17 smaller camps. It’s accused NGOs working here of encouraging people to stay when they would be better off elsewhere.

But Mr Massar says people won’t leave because they have no information, and no reason to believe a different camp would be any better.

And he says, they won’t leave because here they can see the border gates. They believe they will open, and they are waiting, determined to be here when they do.

comments powered by Disqus