On Monday, 14 March 2016, several hundred refugees and migrants trapped by the closure of the Balkan corridor attempted to cross into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia through a river with the help of Greek and Macedonian volunteers. The prompt behind this sudden decision to move was a flyer distributed at Idomeni camp, the originators of which have so far not been identified.
Stuck for weeks in the utterly miserable and inhumane conditions at Idomeni, around 1,000 people decided to follow the leaflet’s advice, trekking for four hours to reach the river to cross, with a very poor outcome for them. No sooner had they crossed into Macedonia, they were rounded up and returned back to Idomeni. Women, children, and the elderly, soaked and freezing from crossing a river which three people drowned in days earlier trying the same route.
I hesitate to blame the refugees for following the leaflet’s advice. If you were freezing cold, permanently damp, out of money, sleep deprived, not getting enough food and in a permanent state of stress in a foreign country, at the mercy of an indifferent international community, you very likely would have chanced it too.
It is incredibly irresponsible of whoever did this to not have thoroughly checked the consequences of what would happen once the group crossed into Macedonia. However well-meant their act was, the outcome was another trial for an already exhausted group of people who have been lied to, tricked, exploited and abandoned at every turn. Their suffering is almost Biblical in its intensity and duration. Not to mention that the leaflet, in Arabic, was full of completely inaccurate information. Here is the complete text of the leaflet, which also included a map:
- The Greek/FYROM Macedonia border is closed and will remain closed
- There will be no trains or buses to take you to Germany
- Most likely anyone who stays in Greece will be deported to Turkey
- Whoever manages to cross into Central European countries in an irregular manner [non-legal] will be allowed to stay. Germany is still accepting refugees
- Most likely the camp at Idomeni will be evacuated in the coming days. You will probably be taken to Greek government holding centers from where you will be returned back to Turkey.
- The fence in front of you is meant to disorient you and make you think the borders are closed. The fence ends five (5) kilometers from here, after which there is no fence to prevent you entering Macedonia (Skopje). You can cross from there (see the map).
- If you move in small groups or alone the border police will manage to catch you or the army will stop you and take you back to Greece.
- But if thousands of you go together, the police will not be able to stop and return you.
Let’s get together on Monday at 14:00 at the entrance of the camp to cross the border together.Please look at the map to know the route and the meeting place.
That’s where the flyer ends. Like I said, whoever did this probably had good intentions, but these people have suffered so much. I get asked all the time why I think they won’t leave Idomeni. My circumstances are very different, but trust me when I say the power of hope should not be underestimated.
If you turned to me tomorrow and said there is absolutely not a chance in hell my son can ever be cured, I’d lose the will to live right there. There are days when all I have to keep me going is a thin shred of hope, sometimes even I know it’s misguided. I know I’m probably kidding myself. But it’s all I have.
This is why there are 12,000 people in the mud and filth of Idomeni. All they have is hope. We should not underestimate the consequences of what losing that hope will do to them. Please, just leave them alone and stick to official advice. This is not the time to play heroes.