Monday, April 11, 2016

In Idomeni

Idomeni at night - northern Greece

"You had to be there. It's a cliche worn smooth by time but it is true that often images and other people's accounts of a situation are often a poor substitute for being on the spot. The same holds true for the Idomeni refugee camp that lies on southern side of the Greek - Macedonian border. At night you have the sense that you are on the set of a movie, a mixture of the bridge scene from Apocalypse Now and any number of zombie movies/series in which survivors huddle together for protection. The acrid smell of burning plastic, constant flow of hooded people, and the powerful spotlights just add to the surreal, post-apocalyptic atmosphere of the place.

Despite the fact that the border has been closed for over a month the mainly Syrian and Iraqi refugees refuse to leave, and hang on to the hope that Macedonia (along with Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and ultimately Germany will reverse their latest decision to close down the Western Balkan Route that allowed refugees to reach northern Europe. They feel they are the victim of some kind of cruel joke that they are stranded in a field in northern Greece whilst so many others, including many of their own family members were allowed to pass just weeks earlier.

Another factor keeping refugees in Idomeni is uncertainty over destinations being offered by the Greek authorities, many of which have been hastily erected and offer little material advantage over Idomeni, Why move to another unknown camp when all it offers is a tent in a muddy food and awful food? Refugees already have that.

In addition many of these camp are literally in the middle of nowhere, isolated from towns and cities for fear of provoking local residents. As a result there are often a collection of tents in a muddy field with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Plus there is the ever present fear that at any point they may be turned into "closed centres", i.e prison camps where people are held prior to being deported as happened on the Greek islands such as Chios to all those who arrived after 20th March which marked the implementation of the EU's deal with Turkey.

In the video posted here refugees were occupying the railway line which connects Greece and Macedonia in protest over the closed border, however,  in the last few days these protests have escalated and yesterday Macedonia border police and troops used tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent refugees crossing the border, According to Doctors Without Borders who are operating at Idomeni over 300 people were treated for the effects of these weapons, including many children who were hit by plastic/rubber bullets or overcome by tear gas which also reached the main camp, far from the border clashes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Colors - Open Kitchen / Colors - Ανοιχτή Κουζίνα serve up to 8,000 meals a day at Idomeni, Greece

The Greek aid organisation, Colors - Open Kitchen cooks and serves up to 8,000 meals a day at the Idomeni transit camp on the Greek - FYR Macedonian border.

The camp, originally designed to house 2,000 refugees for a day is now home to 15,000 who have been stranded there for over three weeks.

The group struggles to find money, supplies, vehicles and volunteers on a daily basis yet despite all these difficulties and the miserable conditions at Idomeni they come through every day.

To find out more about who Colors - Open Kitchen are and how you can help check out their Facebook page.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Refugee Voices - interview with a Syrian refugee stranded at Idomeni, Greece

This interview took place on the 2nd March 2016 at the Eidomeni transit camp on the Greek Macedonian border. This man has been stranded in a field, sharing a flimsy tent with the other members of his family for 11 days. Just a few hundred people are allowed to cross the Macedonian border every day whilst approximately 1,000 refugees arrive per day. As a result 11,000 are stuck in  a transit camp designed to hold 1,500 for a day, not the two weeks some have been there.

The Refugee Solidarity Movement of Thessaloniki and Eidomeni goes up to Eidomeni twice a week to serve hot, sweet Syrian style tea. Wherever possible our volunteers help out with other groups.

For more on who we are and what we do check out our Facebook page.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Refugee crisis brings racist rhetoric back into the European mainstream

Refugee children - Idomeni transit camp, northern Greece

''The waves of immigrants threaten to turn Europe into an endless hell of Islamic terrorism"

Greek Orthodox bishop Anthimos - Thessaloniki 14th February 2016

The current refugee crisis  has awakened the very worst in Europe's collective psyche, with racist rhetoric that would have been considered unacceptable in "respectable" discourse a few years ago becoming part of mainstream political discussions. Ideas and attitudes that were once the preserve of far right extremists are gradually worming their way into media and political debate as the arrival of refugees prompts responses that often verges on the hysterical.

Bishop Anthimos, who has long been a fixed feature of the Greek Orthodox ultra-nationalist far right addressed a conference on Sunday in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki in order to draw attention to the supposed threat of the "Islamisation" of Europe. In this he is hardly along as similar ideas are quickly gaining ground in other nations (just see Hungary's PM, Viktor Orban and the rise of the Pegida movement in Germany and elsewhere. With austerity policies making the traditional parties of power ever increasingly unpopular, many politicians have been happy to scapegoat refugees directly or ride the wave of fear whipped up by mainstream media outlets looking to boost flagging ratings and declining political influence.

With many European states willing to use heavily armed NATO warships to stem the flow of refugees in the Aegean and fund Macedonia to fence in EU member, Greece the fear of the Other so shamelessly cultivated by much the continent's mainstream media is bearing poisonous fruit, Once more Europe has shown that Fear sells, both at the polling both and the news stand.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Video: Refugee Stories - Eidomeni in northern Greece

This Afghan father agreed to talk to us and his son translated. The interview took place on 10th February 2016 as the two were waiting to cross into FYR Macedonia, the next stage of their journey to Germany.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Latest video from the Eidomeni transit camp on the Greek - FYR Macedonian border

With Greek farmers blocking highways across the country coaches carrying refugees from Athens to the northern border crossing are being forced to take provincial roads. As a result the journey can take more than 12 hours.

To add to an already chaotic situation the Greek police are unwilling or unable to provide information to NGOs and volunteer groups at Eidomeni concerning when and how many coaches are arriving on any given day.

Partly, this is due to the police's long standing hostility to humanitarian groups operating at the camp, partly, it is incompetence. Although the police have been given the responsibility of monitoring refugee coaches on the move they do not seem to be able to implement this policy in practice.

As a result making decision about how much, food, water and other forms of aid will be needed becomes a matter of guesswork.

The Refugee Solidarity Movement of Thessaloniki - Eidomeni was on hand to give out cups of hot sweet tea last Wednesday and Saturday but with few arrivals we had far fewer "customers" than on other occasions. Still, plenty waiting in the camp to cross the border were happy for the offer of a cup of tea.

Other volunteers helped out at the clothing distribution tent where their Arabic/Greek/English speaking skills were much appreciated.

Fortunately, the border was open for much of the day, though how long it will so is unsure as FYR Macedonia and Greece come under ever more pressure from northern EU nations to stem the flow of refugees taking the Western Balkan Route from the Aegean to northern Europe.

Refugee Solidarity Movement of Thessaloniki and Eidomeni

Monday, February 08, 2016

Welcome to Denmark - Now hand over your cash!

Apparently, the Danish government is not at all happy with the international attention it has garnered in the wake of law that would allow the authorities to seize assets from those applying for asylum in order to pay for their stay, and this in one of the richest nations on Earth. The law also extends the the time period after which family members can join loved ones from one to three years. 

The Danish coalition government which includes the far right Venstre party has defended these measures saying that Danish citizens seeking help from the State are subject to the same regulations, however, as the more astute of you will have noticed, no Danes have been bombed out of their homes in Odense or have been forced to flee murderous death squads in Aarhus with just what they can carry.