Our unique positioning in this part of the world at this current time provides us a special opportunity.
Unplanned | Unexpected | Unbelievable
We arrived in Thessaloniki on the 16th of March 2016 from Athens.
Our journey on the train was as normal as you would expect. A few groups of back packers, people travelling for business and the odd person you would assume was travelling to visit family or friends. Like trips we had taken before it all seemed straightforward for us, only at this time there was a group of passenger’s that seemed different to the rest. These people dressed differently and they spoke differently. When I asked where they were from, they gave an answer I’m not sure I was ready for. I had read the news articles about refugees from the Middle East, making the voyage from their homeland to Europe to start a new life and escape the world they needed so badly to get away from. However I hadn’t really prepared myself for the reality that I may face these exact people and learn about their real situations.
Probably the happiest kid I’ve seen in a while
Saturday the 19th of March
From that train trip to now, Maddy and I had spoken about what we had seen, the dots started to join from before the 6-hour train ride. That man begging desperately for money before the train departed. The groups of families waiting with what looked to be their worldly possessions, ready to take the next step towards their freedom.
The only thing we could think of was how we could help these people in need and what organisations we could contact to make that possible.
A quick search put us in contact with the group Eterotopia, who invited us down to help out in their operations. When we arrived we were greeted by a friendly group and were then quickly put to work sorting through what seemed like an endless amount of clothing donated from many generous people. A grand tour of the building revealed the hard work and dedication this group had to helping people in need.
Our next step was to visit the Idomeni Refugee Camp, on the Greece – Macedonia border.
A 1 hour drive from the heart of Thessaloniki put us right in the thick of the ‘refugee crisis’. Country side to make shift camp sites in the blink of an eye, faster than my mind could even process there were people walking a long the streets, walking for hours from spot to spot gathering what they could and information they most desperately needed. We continued to drive past these people stationed at various spots before pulling over in the small village of Idomeni. Home to roughly 15,000 refugees, this place had been transformed from what was a processing area to miniature city in days. Before the borders were closed there was a processing period of 2 hours. People were passing through at a rapid rate and there was somewhat of a flow. Since then the borders have been shut and people have become stuck in limbo, nowhere to go and nowhere to return to. The desperation and despair that comes with this, you and I cannot even imagine.
All you see are tents that seem to go on for hundreds of meters, the train line is swamped with peoples new homes. Some cargo trains arrive and depart as children play on the tracks unaware of their current situation. The team at Eterotopia do everything in their power to help the people living at Idomeni, from arriving at the camp they co-ordinate a tight operation handing out supplies to the men, women and children in need. While we were there Maddy and I helped the team hand out much needed water, food and baby formula to the families.
A family hand in hand
You don’t have to venture far to find some of the most touching stories you will ever hear.
A woman we spoke to named Jan to told us her story.
Jan is 45 years old, caring after her 16 month old child and another 3 children under 10 years old and to top it off, her elderly mother.
Jan had lived in Syria her whole life, in a small village she called home before her husband and the father to her 4 children tragically died in the war. In fear of her family’s life she made the decision to leave Syria and seek refuge by making the voyage across land to Turkey and then by making the treacherous journey across the Aegean Sea- to Greece with her family. Only then to have to walk 3 days north to Thessaloniki, and now be stuck with an unsure future and her family to keep safe.
This is only one in the thousands of stories of heartbreak, despair, fear and hope that you will find at Idomeni.
Children play with whatever the have at Idomeni
I myself can’t express to you the vibe of Idomeni and the empty feeling you have when visiting and walking through the campgrounds. The over 15,000 refugees there haven’t anything in terms of creature comforts and are simply living on what they have surrounding them and what is given to them from relief organisations. The Greek government without any other options and no way to maintain liveable conditions at Idomeni have been forced to issue notices to the families here suggesting they head south toward Thessaloniki.
The people at Idomeni face an uncertain future, all we can do is hope that they remain safe and well until they can be relocated.
Tents along the Macedonian border
Police block the cargo train route in and out of Greece
A Macedonian Soldier