Out of Idomeni
With thousands of people anxious to leave, it was clear it would not be easy to stop them for long. On Monday, an Arabic-language flyer circulated the camp describing a new route to the north, through a hole in Macedonia’s barrier. About 1,000 people walked toward the village of Hamilo, where they waded a stream swollen by rain, in the same spot where the night before three people drowned. The water passage was facilitated by dozens of volunteers. “They were going to pass anyway, so it is better to help them, thus avoiding more tragedies,” explained a German volunteer who held on to one end of the rope, which was too short but was used as a support line.
But for most of them, their stay in Macedonia didn’t last even one night. “We were caught by the Macedonian police, loaded onto a truck and brought back to Greece,” said Holam Haider, a 35-year-old Afghan from Parwan province, back to his routine in the Idomeni mud.
The left side of his face shows an evident bruise, and his right shoulder is stained by a patch of dried blood, spilled from a skull wound hidden by his thick hair. “The Macedonian police hit me in the face with a baton … and on the head with the butt of a rifle,” he said, showing his wounds. He said he is exasperated. He had been living at the camp for the past two weeks and his patience was over.
Similar story for an elderly, disabled Syrian man, who was brought back after the sortie in Macedonia. He points his finger to the sky while his body shudders on the leather seat of an old wheelchair. “It is absurd to stay here,” he said. “We paid thousands of euro to escape, and now we find ourselves in these conditions, having to wait for the food distributed around the camp.” He added, “We tried to pass four times already, but we’ll try again.” Behind him is the railway line linking Greece and Macedonia, blocked 200 meters to the north by a heavy galvanized gate wrapped in barbed wire.
On the other side stood a group of police stand between the stones. An officer who gave his name as Zanko approached us, the only Macedonian willing to talk. “We are not the only ones beating — the migrants also use force when they try to pass through,” he said, trying to justify what happened to Haider and the others. He didn’t mention the refugees carry in their shaking hands only blankets, sleeping bags and small children. He speaks broken Italian: “My brother works in a vineyard in Alba, Piedmont.” But he cannot find the words to express his personal opinion on the tragedy unfolding in the mud over the fence. “I cannot let myself think. I must obey. … But the orders come from Germany.”
’Forced to flee’
A passage to the right of the gate leads to the heart of the tent camp. The refugees spend their time in small talk, trying to light a fire or smoking another cigarette. Sometimes, the typical Syrian courtesies are abandoned: Before a greeting comes the ritual question, in English, “When will they open the border?” Some who say it have never heard English, not even on television.