Back on the north border. My “trip” to the south is over. What I saw the last few days in Gevgelija, the camp in Idomeni, Hara hotel and especially at the Macedonian-Greek borderline, will remain in my memory for ever.
Seems like all the desperation in the world has planted itself among these people. Desperate to get in the country, begging and crying from behing the razor wire, pushing their children in front of them so we and the special police force can see the conditions they are in(living for days in the fields and the dirt, wet from the rain and dehydrated from the sun) and in an act of mercy and humanity will take them across the razor wire. Others desperate to get reunited with the members of their families who managed to break trough earlier. So many families got separated then, in the clash with the police, while running trough the open fields and on the train tracks, as far as they could from the stun grenades and the war-zone scene that was evolving. Their cry of happiness and gratitude once we find their family members behind the razor wire and take them out, on Macedonian territory. To safety. And for a split of a second, the desperation is over. Until they get to the train station, and see the line for getting the papers. Standing on the sun for hours, one line for men, other line for women and families. Desperate to finish the processing and continue their way. Many fights happen on those lines, not because one is violent, but because one can only endure so much. Than the train boarding drama. It’s always a mystery when the train will come, and how many trains there will be that day. And how much people it can take. And hundreds to a thousand(and more) are waiting to board. Once they see the train appear, they rush and push in desperate attempt to be the ones who manage to board first. The police reacts to create order, and ask us to help try take out families to board first. The most vulnerable categories of people. But how do you pick them out, when most of them are families, with lots of children of different age, pregnant women, old people.. and all of them are equally desperate to get over yet another obstacle of the many they encountered and will encounter on their way. And all of them are begging to be picked out to be the next to board. My words that they will all get there eventually are not heard. Because they want to get there now. And once they do, it’s long and crammed train ride to Tabanovce, often more than 6hours for less than 200km.
I will never forget the sight of 4000-5000 wet people I saw the cold night I visited the camp on the Greek side of the border line.
I will never forget the old man loosing his breath, distressed from the stun grenades and the running, laying in my lap, while a doctor refugee was trying to help him.
I will never forget the child with the blue-green eyes who got separated from all of his family in the rush and stayed on the train tracks persistently until we took his hand and led him to the razor wire to find his mother and father and two brothers, and take them in.
I will never forget the police officer who asked me to help another child that lost his family.
I will never forget the desperate cries of the people in the first row behind the razor-wire, calling out our names, pleading as we pass by to help them get inside the country and finish the nightmare they are in.”
I do understand the man that tried to kill himself that day.
I do understand his helplessness and inability to cope any longer. That second of endless and bottomless desperation. That split of a second of false lucidity, when he looked around himself, into the crowd of wet muddy people. Some with expressionless face that gave in their fight and let the rain fall down on their already soaked bodies. Some with tears in their eyes out of utter helplessness. Unable to protect the most dear they hold in their hands. Or by their hands. Or somewhere on sight. The soaked wet children. With their wet shoes slipping in the muddy road as they try to catch up the step of their parents.
I saw so many tears that day, I heard so much hopeless sobs. From the never ending river of people coming in and trough the station, all asking for dry clothes and blankets, or plastic bags to protect them from the rain that wasn’t stopping, shoes for their wet feet that wouldn’t break from the deep mud in the fields they needed to cross. I saw myself hiding my tears from them, my desperation was not to add up to theirs. I saw the red eyes of all the people I work with, and everybody that came to visit us and help.
It was a day of ultimate misery and despair. For him, it was one too many.
One of the happiest moments I have on the borderline is seeing Tomor and Selami walking towards me trough the fields, knowing that whatever case I brought them will be assisted properly, You cannot imagine the happiness and the relief the people, the most vulnerable, feel once they see the van. Once they are sure they will be treated properly.
It’s always very hard to pick the most vulnerable among the most vulnerable, explain to them that the car cannot come to the place they are now, that their family(if they have some) cannot go with the car, they need to meet again on the location we agree upon, but they do need to go together the 500-700m walking and push the wheelchairs/wheelbarrows, that their bags cannot be in the car bc what the disabled can carry is what they can take. To put them in the car and take them out after 300meters, set them on the path from the borderline into Serbian territory with this amazing people that now I love as if they were my brothers, explain that after 500m a van will wait, no closer bc there is no road, bc it’s not approachable. And this action can take smtimes an hour of our time at the border. And daily we do this at least 5 times with full van, organizing them and putting them in groups considering the number of wheelchairs and bags per group and number of family members that can help along the process.
Yesterday, while having a coffee in their office in Presevo, I realized that I cannot even remember our first case of arranged pick-up, months ago, but I remember the excitement and the fear of the first time we did this – can this be a regular link for the most vulnerable, will we have problems with police, are we allowed to do this, how often can we do this?
What started out as friends working on both sites giving coordinated assistance and protection to the ones that need it the most, is now a common action we do every day, that others follow and try to do the same. The need of more organized pick-up is still there, the need of more people capable to do this still exists, the need of approachable road especially in times of rain and mud is one of the priorities, but we push and pull everywhere this to become reality, so the most vulnerable among the most vulnerable can be assisted the proper way.
Our “creative” solutions in action.
Although there are many things that need improvement on Tabanovce refugee station, one of the most important aspects is working on establishing mechanisms for handing-over cases in need of special care.
So far, we’ve managed to make an unofficial link with the people working on the other side(Miratovac and Presevo refugee station), using our own cars and the good will of Serbian border police to hand-over refugees with difficulty in walking or other cases that cannot walk the 2km distance to the Miratovac station (or the 4km to the village, or the 10-12km to the Presevo refugee station), but this link is highly dependable of the working hours of our Serbian colleagues and the mood of the border police.
During the day, from 8am until 6-8pm, UNHCR and IOM vans are at disposal to this category of refugees, waiting at the Miratovac station, and UNHCR busses until 10pm from the village usually intended for families with children, to ease the 7-8km walk to Presevo refugee station. But after this hours, the refugees need to walk 10-12km, the total distance from Tabanovce refugee station to Presevo refugee station, or use some of the illegal taxies that wait in Miratovac village and pay 20eur per person.
It is most urgent to work together (on governmental level) on a solution, if not for everybody – which would be the best case scenario, than at least for the disabled, for the most endangered and for the ones that have the most difficulty in crossing this distance. Until than, we will try to do our best and be as creative as possible to ease the road for the people that need it the most.
We “cover” the refugee station 24/7 the last one and a half to two months, since arrival of people doesn’t stop – trains arrive all day and night, and we try to provide humanitarian relief and information to every person coming there and heading out towards Serbia. I am thankful to everyone that comes to volunteer and/or donate, what was once two people standing in the dark with few packages of food(middle of June right after legislative changes in Macedonia), now grew up to 30 volunteers, with food, hygiene packages, clothes, shoes, blankets, raincoats and other items the people might need.
Thank you everyone for being there for them