“Refugee border point Gevgelija, Macedonia, late September
I remember meeting an activist who once said to me ”the best way to monitor the abuses the refugees undergo is by pretending to be one of them”. On a rainy day in Gevgelija, not having any umbrella with me, I put my scarf on my head so as not to get wet. I came across a Syrian family looking for a bank to withdraw money.
– We tried to go to a cafe or a restaurant to find shelter from the rain – no restaurant or cafe accepted us; I was treated as shit, insulted, shouted at and looked at suspiciously; when the waiters realised I am Macedonian, one restaurant owner apologised and said ”I” as Macedonian can come in, but not my Syrian friends. He kindly elaborated that ”It’s not me, if the locals see them here, they will stop coming to my cafe, they are afraid of them”
– We went to Western Union that has a waiting area but we had to wait outside in the rain because we are ”contagious terrorists”.
– I went to a shop with my Syrian friends and was followed everywhere and closely monitored by the shop attendant; when I asked why she is following me, she smiled politely ”Oh so sorry dear, I thought you were one of THEM”.
– I was approached by ordinary taxi drivers, ”Syria? Syria?” I just went along and pretended not to speak Macedonian. ”No document, no problem”, he exclaimed graciously, trying to cajole us into taking a taxi at a higher rate and offering a ride without us having the documents.
We as civilians are not allowed to take the refugees to our homes, we ended up sitting on wet cold, concrete in front of Western Union. Aa’ida covered her kid in a blanket, clasping her to her chest. When it stopped raining, the blanket was still wet. Shouted at, spat on and wet. My shoes were soaking wet and I myself was shivering, cursing life and existence for not being able to take them to my home. But Ai’da’s brother was happy, he even started taking pictures of us, he said ”I managed to reach the soil after escaping death in the dreadful sea, of course I am happy. I am happy to be alive, I am happy to just be”.
Very true, indeed, Matthew Cassell ”the best way to monitor the
abuses the refugees undergo is by pretending to be one of them” . But also, what I’ve learnt is that by being one of them we better understand their perspective and their inner turmoil, their joy and their pain. We sit in the cold with them, we wait in the rain with them, we pray with them and eat with them in the muddy streets and thus we share their happiness and sorrow, their pain and hardships…and every ounce of suffering in their heart becomes our suffering, and every smile on their faces becomes our smile and every single teardrop in their eyes becomes a bitter teardrop in our eyes. ”we” are ”them” and ”they” are ”us”. We are people, we are one. In universal sisterhood and brotherhood, we are one.”
“Refugee camp, Gevgelija: At present, refugee stereotypes in Macedonia, the country where I live, are on the increase. One such ridiculous stereotype is that refugees, coming from countries from all over the world, are carriers of diseases to which our immune system has not built up resistance. Despite the fact that there has not been a single case evidenced of a highly contagious refugee transiting Macedonia, this nonsensical belief has gone so far as to compel some “humanitarians” to wear gloves and face masks while giving food to the refugees, as well as some Red Cross volunteers, out of fear not to “contract a disease”. Here’s how I respond to that, dear Macedonians – and the only thing I contracted from the refugees that I cannot seem to cure is unbreakable strength and love for life”
Gevgelija camp, Greek-Macedonian border
You can erect walls, fences, wires and whatever you want to, but you cannot hold us down. We’ll hold hands and melt down your stupid fences.
Me and Moustafa, an 18-year old Moroccan with excellent French. Him and his friends have to wait out in the cold in front of the fenced Gevgelija camp, as they belong to the currently ” unwanted” nationalities. There are no beds, no chairs, his group has cardboard to sleep on. They light up a fire as there is zero heating. We don’t have enough gloves so we give them socks to put on their hands.
But they smile and waive at us, but they laugh and warmly greet us. And as my eyes well up with tears, young Moustafa comforts me:”It’s ok, it’s ok, don’t worry about us, we’re ok”.