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Idomeni – the first slums of the European Union

  source: DW | author: Panajotis Kuparanis  

Idomeni, april 11 – Every morning, three or four buses arrive in Idomeni. They park at the beginning of the asphalt road leading to the refugee camp and – wait. In the afternoon they drive onwards, by then they are empty. And if they do drive a few passengers further, they are often families who are in hope for better living conditions in state camps of the region. A small number of people leave Idomine, much less than the amount who enter it. The refugee camp spreads wider day in and day out. The only barrier is the Macedonian fence at the border with Greece. Not only are there more and more tents on the field, there are already clear structures in the camp – although the state has nothing to do with them.

A city without a country

NGOs take care of food for the refugees, share clothing and blankets, organize medical assistance. In Idomi, the first refugee babies were born, and several women will also soon give birth says one Czech doctor. Volunteers take care of children, just like the work of a youth party. And in the evening, there is an open-air disco where Arab pop music is playing. Stores are blooming in the camp. Refugees work as “flying traders” – selling oils, fruits, cigarettes, batteries and gas cook stoves.

The cleanliness of the camp is taken care of by the staff engaged by the help of foreign humanitarian aid money. Over time, the number of toilets, improvised showers, and simple beds increased. The benches are made from the branches, plastic sculptures are placed to protect people from the sun throughout the day. It’s just a matter of time before it starts to take off the first barracks. And when this happens, then it will be possible to say that this is the first slum of the European Union. With an estimated 13,000 t0 15,000 inhabitants, Idomeni had become the second largest city of the northern Greek district of Kilkis.

1,500 euros for a journey to Western Europe

If one can believe the statements made by the Greek government, the number of people currently in Idomi has dropped to 11,300. NGOs and Greek aid providers who have been on the scene for months now claim that this figure is wrong. However, it does not have to mean that the Greek authorities are lying to the public. The number of the Greek authorities are based on data on those who come to the camp and voluntarily report to the provision police office and register. However, not everyone is registered. Among them are two twenty year olds from Syrian Homs – Ahmed and Abdulhamid. Like everyone else we spoke to, they are convinced that the border will once again be open and that they only have to wait patiently – no matter how long it takes.

For Diana and Anuar from Aleppo, staying in Idomi is not an option. “We did not come to Europe to live in Refugee camps in Turkey in Lebanon,” Diana complains in fluent english. “Syria is in our past, we want the future to be built somewhere else.” And what if peace prevails in Syria? “Please, peace in Syria?” They will not apply for asylum in Greece because, they say, the country has enough problems on its own. They do not want to be a part of the European Union relocation program of refugees because do not want to “get to Hungary”.  The West is engaged in a civil war in Syria in the name of freedom and human rights, Diana emphasized. And that’s all families are seeking: life in freedom and in a country where stable conditions prevail. For her, its the Netherlands. And Germany, we ask. No, she says, there is currently not a good atmosphere there when it comes to refugees. The fact is, however, that the borders in the direction Western Europe are closed. Not for everyone, adds Anuar: one who has 500 euros will be transferred from Turkey to Italy. As the others claimed in Idomi, currently human traffickers are transferring refugees through Macedonia to an EU country are asking for 1,500 euros. And what will they do? “We will not stay in Idomi for a long time,” Diana replies.

“Stay where you are now”

But that’s why many others will stay here. Or they do not dare to try to escape, or have any money for it. Temperatures in Greece are increasing daily, and the situation in the camp is getting worse. The competent health institution in the region of North Macedonia is already talking about a “bomb that will soon explode”. They are also scared of an epidemic. After hepatitis A, there are more frequent cases appearing of lung disease. The terrain in the camp is very humid, dry, full of garbage as volunteers disperse foods of “suspicious quality”. Due to spoiled foods a few days ago, camp residents protested.

The state should react urgently. But nothing has happened yet. Violence will not be applied, they will try to change things by conviction – claim the government. Bur for this, in Idomi, representatives of government and interpreters should come in order to try to get refugees on the spot in state camps immediately. This has yet to happen. And this is deliberately assumed by young Syrian Zainab. The want to demotivate all those who would go to Europe, she says. The message has obviously arrived to the right address. In the meantime, everyone in Idomi who she knows, her friends and relatives in Syria say: “Stay where you are now!”

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