Next to the Greek border with the Republic of Macedonia, hope meets harsh reality. Close to Eidomeni, a village 80 km far from Thessaloniki, at the banks of river Axios, there is the meeting point of migrants who want to leave Greece with those who help them to do so.
On January 18, 2015, I visited the place along with representatives of some associations from Thessaloniki carrying food, water, blankets, warm clothes and medicine to give to the people staying there, who, as we had heard, had no or very unstable lodgings. After a two and half hour trip we arrived at the banks of river Axios, right next to the train station. Some had already been there, but for me it was the first time.
Everyone had a different story to tell. Some escaped war and had just arrived through the Turkish borders or the Mediterranean Sea. Others had lived in Greece for years but decided to move to other European countries – most often Germany or France - searching for better job opportunities and a better life. This spot is where they meet with the smugglers who help them cross the borders to reach the Republic of Macedonia. Some manage to cross quickly but for others it is more difficult and they stay there for months. Like a Syrian man that had already tried to 'escape' three times and failed, whereas his brother succeeded and had reached Germany. He had camped further away, close to other Syrians and although they could probably see us they did not come out, believing we could be police officers that would arrest them.
At the police station of the village there were, at that time, eleven detainees: two Syrians and nine Afghans. One of them had requested asylum and some of them had health problems that required medical treatment. The women and the children are not kept in the station but are free to go, the members of the team were told. After a talk with the detainees and the police officers we understood better the dangers they face. Macedonian police officers tend to beat them and then send them back to the Greek territory while there is general lack of cooperation between them and the Greek police on this matter.
Later we had a meeting with locals who have taken the initiative to help migrants in any way they can and with other associations coming from Kilkis, a town 50km away. We heard stories about big common carriers that act like smugglers and get paid hundreds of euros to carry migrants across the borders and that the price range is not stable but it follows the rules of supply and demand forming a business that exploits migrants in need. This business has an enormous profit
The help coming from the locals is not enough though as people come and go from this place quickly. When they bring clothes to some, after they leave, the newcomers are going to need clothes as well. Within a week the number of migrants that pass from there may reach one thousand whereas in summer this number surely rises. Despite the assistance from the locals, who also cook for them every three days, actions need to be taken on a national and European level.
At the end of the day we all went to our homes and I could not stop thinking of all those people there in the cold hoping to settle in a new home soon.
Photos taken by Theodora Ralli, all rights reserved.