Refugees stuck in Idomeni: Questions but no answers

Thousands stuck at a makeshift camp across Greek-Macedonian border are clueless about what is going to happen next.

During the past three days at the makeshift camp across Greece’s border with Macedonia – all we heard were questions.

Thousands of refugees block Greece-Macedonia border

People don’t know who to believe. There are a lot of rumours, a lot of misinformation and – deliberate or not – the thousands of refugees and migrants are being kept in the dark, deceived and misled. 

We were aware that a group of refugees were planning to push their way across the border on Sunday morning. 

The people behind the plan were those who have been trying to convince people not to move into government-run accommodation centres. 

They want people to stay at Idomeni because their presence attracts the world’s cameras – and hope it will pressure EU leaders to revise their decisions.

READ MORE: Inside Idomeni refugee camp, nothing left but hope

But information about the planned march was not disseminated on social media. Instead people were told the border was to open. 

While we were driving to Idomeni, we saw dozens of migrants and refugees carrying their belongings and walking for kilometres in the cold.

“We are so happy,” Mahdi, a Syrian Palestinian told me. “Finally we can cross.” 

There has been no official announcement that the border is to open, we told him. Mahdi and the others with him refused to believe that. They kept walking, only to find dozens of refugees preparing to break through Greek police lines.

It didn’t take long before they changed their minds. They realised that crossing the border by force would not change anything. They have attempted that in the past, only to be arrested by Macedonian authorities and sent back. 

IDOMENI: On the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe

And so they announced that they wouldn’t be marching. “We are peaceful people,” one man said on the loudspeaker. “We won’t cross unless the Red Cross is with us and there is a decision by the European Union to let us in.”

Refugees in Greece camp seek escape route

Instead they held a peaceful protest and sent a message to the world not to forget them. 

It was clear that as days pass, more and more of the 50,000 refugees and migrants who are stuck in Greece are resigned to the fact that Europe’s open-door policy has been shut.

They cling on to hope that things will change but deep in their hearts they know they are trapped. 

They come to us, journalists seeking answers to questions. Is it true that they are taking people to military camps? Is it true we will be sent back to Turkey? Should we agree to move to government-run centres? Are conditions better there? Is it true we will be given priority if we stay at the border? 

There are others who are now talking about going back home. “How can we do that? I heard they are giving free tickets so that we can go back. Where do we go to get those tickets?” – were questions we heard from quite a few people. 

READ MORE: A day in Idomeni

The UNHCR and other aid agencies do have offices at the makeshift camp where people have been struggling to survive in the cold and rain for weeks now. 

But they don’t seem to have all the answers – and they are overwhelmed. 

Others are now accepting that they may have to wait months or even years before their asylum requests are processed or they are relocated under an EU plan. 

Chaos, uncertainty, suffering, desperation, frustration – that is the atmosphere in Idomeni today. 

And it is not only in Idomeni. Just travel a few kilometres along the highway to Thessaloniki, and the mood is similar among refugees and migrants who live in tents near petrol stations.

Refugees shout slogans during a protest demanding the opening of the border between Greece and Macedonia in the northern Greek border station of Idomeni [Darko Vojinovic/AP]
Refugees shout slogans during a protest demanding the opening of the border between Greece and Macedonia in the northern Greek border station of Idomeni [Darko Vojinovic/AP]

“I only have 40 euros left and I want to save it to pay for the taxi to go to the border. Do you think it will open soon?” Abu Hassan, a refugee from Syria, asked us. 

It is hard to tell people that they may be holding on to a dream. “Greek authorities are taking people to centres where they can live while they wait for their papers to be processed,” we explained. 

He was shocked. “What buses? What accommodation centres? Where can we find these buses? How can we apply?” Abu Hassan asked. 

The EU may have decided on how it wants to deal with the migrant crisis but it seems to have failed to give these people the answers they are desperately seeking. 

Source: Al Jazeera