Category Archives: refugees

A year since Aylan Kurdi’s death, Europe has gone back to not caring

web-refugee-crisis-7-twitterIt was one year ago today when an image raced around the globe, an image which broke hearts and enraged sentiments. It was an image that made us question ourselves as human beings and wonder with how much shame we’d look back on 2015 and the way in which we failed the child in the picture, and so many like him.

A picture of a little boy whose name meant ‘exalted’, lying face down and lifeless on a Turkish beach. In the early hours of 2 September 2015, three year old Aylan Kurdi lost his life. His picture shook many of us to the core, and like so many mothers, I saw my children in him. I saw the curve of my younger son’s cheek, the way he sleeps with his bottom raised in the air. I saw his little shirt, his shorts and his shoes, and I thought about the mother who had dressed him before they got onto that boat.

Were the clothes warm enough? Should he wear open or closed shoes? Would he need socks? Maybe not. But what if the wind picked up? Finally she must have decided no socks, it was a warm night. How do you even decide what to dress your child in for a journey like that, I kept wondering as I looked at the little shoes that were supposed to have stepped onto the shores of Greece, but never did.

I saw in my mind’s eye the sleepy child protesting against being lifted from his rest by his frightened parents, nestling in his mother’s arms and starting to fret as water splashed against him. And then the rest. The screams, the shock of the cold water, the eyes squeezed shut, the little mouth calling for his mother in complete terror and answered only with the salty water of the Aegean.

By early morning, it was all over. By an act of pure luck, a photographer at the right place at the right time, Aylan Kurdi escaped the anonymous fate of so many thousands like him, people whose names and stories we’ll never know. The name his parents had thoughtfully picked for him, smiling joyfully at their younger son as they held him for the first time, was now on everyone’s lips.

For those of us who had been following the refugee crisis in Greece, our timelines and inboxes filled with such stories and images of countless small children washed up dead on beaches, their nappies swollen with sea water, the wave of outrage that Aylan Kurdi’s death brought a tiny glimmer at hope that maybe now the rest of the world would feel the sense of urgency we did. Something had to change, didn’t it? For a little while, this did happen. But it didn’t last. It rarely does.

After a brief period of hand-wringing, Europe went right back to business as usual. They built fences and continued their swing to the right. They shut their doors and hearts. When Greece’s northern border shut, tens of thousands became trapped in Greece, and the flow stopped. In Greece, people who had been through indignity after indignity found themselves squelching through the mud and filth of Idomeni, wondering why Europe was working so hard to keep them out.

Keeping refugees out (or benefit-scrounging migrants, as some have labelled all of them) became such a political flash point that the UK decided to leave the European Union altogether thanks in part to this one point. If those voters only knew the full horror of what these people go through before they even get on those boats, they would change their minds in an instant.

A completely fractured European Union was unable to find a solution to the refugee crisis (helpful hint: safe passage would be a good start, as would reasonably speedy relocation) involved Turkey in their deal and as borders closed and numbers fell, everyone congratulated themselves on a job well done.

I think it’s time we can stop pretending the Europe has achieved anything meaningful when it comes to this crisis. The relocation programme is so slow it might as well not exist. The asylum process has been split into two steps, which rather than streamlining the process, has confused a lot of people who think the first step is the only one they need to complete.

“You’re a journalist? Do you know how long it will take? Is there any news from Europe?” are questions I get asked all the time from the women stuck in Greece trying to reach husbands, fathers and brothers who made the journey to Europe ahead of them. And I have nothing to tell them.

A year on from Aylan Kurdi’s death, people are still coming and they are dying in record numbers. Last week, the Italian coastguard reported its busiest day in years off the Libyan coast when they rescued 6,500 people.

In Greece, mayors on the front line islands have spent the summer making increasingly desperate pleas to the Greek government and Europe to speed up the asylum and relocation processes as their islands continue to see refugee flows, especially after the failed Turkish coup in July.

For the time being, we seem content with doing nothing in the face of a situation that is in my mind one of the most shameful in Europe’s history. The shame we should be feeling is something that doesn’t seem to bother us any more. We’ve grown immune to it. In 20 years’ time, when the pain from the refugee crisis has begun to fade, I don’t know how I will answer my children when they ask me “What did you do about it?”. Few of us do, and even fewer of us are bothered by this fact.

A fickle media and a public suffering from compassion fatigue went in search of the next story. They found Omran Daqneesh and once more hands were wrung. How awful! We must stop all this!

But be honest, we won’t. We’ll click a few links, share a few posts and think that’s enough, just like we did with Aylan Kurdi, and just like we’ll carry on doing, until we decide once and for all that the thousands risking the Mediterranean this year are human beings like you and me, with the same dreams and ambitions, and that they deserve a bit of dignity. Right now, I really don’t know what can make that happen.

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Where the dream of Europe ends

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Macedonia has shut its borders to all but three nationalities and the backlog has been returned to Athens where they wonder what to do next.

Idomeni, the small Greek village that represents the final Greek frontier and the doorway to Europe for refugees fleeing war and poverty in their countries, was strangely empty on Wednesday night.

After days of a stalemate when Macedonia closed its border to everyone except refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, Greek authorities took measures to transport around 2,000 refugees back to Athens where they will be accommodated at Elaionas camp and, most recently, the Tae Kwon Do stadium, built for when Athens hosted the Olympic games in 2004 and converted into a temporary shelter.

Most refugees arriving in Greece want to move onward, heading through Macedonia mainly towards the promised lands of Germany, the Netherlands or Sweden. When the border shut, a backlog of desperate people became stranded at Idomeni in freezing conditions and with little food and water.

These were people mainly from Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan and other countries deemed non eligible by the Macedonian authorities. Back in Athens, their time is running out.

At Victoria Square in central Athens, brothers Saif Ali, 18 and Ali 15 from Lahore in Pakistan were pondering their next move after reluctantly returning to Athens the previous day. Having wasted their money on an unsuccessful trip to Idomeni, they are currently staying at Elaionas camp, which is now full.

“We knew when we paid to take a bus to Idomeni that the border was closed, but we decided to take the risk. They didn’t let us pass, they beat us with sticks. They sent us back. Our money got wasted.

“We were stuck there for five days, it was so cold.” said Saif Ali. “We tried to pass through with everyone else, they check your papers one by one. People had fake papers, and I saw some people borrow the papers of Afghanis, show them to the guards and then slip them back to the owners.”

Nearby, a group of Pakistanis from the Balochistan region had also just come back from the border after failing to cross. Whereas Syrians receive permission to remain in Greece for six months, their papers are only good for one month. Finding themselves stuck, they put the word out to an extended network of friends and families until remote connections were found who were willing to put them up in Athens until they worked out what to do.

None of the group wished to be named, and all told a similar story. “I came to Greece a week ago, and I was going to go to Idomeni, but looking at the state of these guys I’ve changed my mind.” said one of them, with medical qualifications he hopes to put to use wherever he eventually ends up. His brother was taken away by the Pakistani authorities in January 2015 and has not been heard from since. Official channels through the high court and human rights courts drew no leads, only threats that he too would be taken if he didn’t let the issue drop.

“They take people away without any charge, just to break them. I don’t know if my brother is alive or dead. I have seven brothers, we used to all live together at home. Now, we fear for our lives so we scattered. I came to Europe.” he said.

Human Rights Watch has been calling for action over the extensive human rights abuses including enforced disappearances, executions and torture in the Baloch region, allegedly by the Pakistani government and intelligence agencies. Amnesty International has also been documenting the abuses.

The group’s phones contain their own evidence of mutilated corpses of the disappeared and raids by government authorities. “No one wants to leave their homeland,” said another “But it’s too dangerous for us to stay there. Four of my cousins have been disappeared by the authorities. Please tell the world what’s happening in Balochistan.”

Despite the cold, poor conditions and threat of the border closing completely to all nationalities as it did a few days ago, Fariba Faeezi, 42 from Afghanistan, was preparing to catch a bus to Idomeni. She travelled to Greece with her 16 year old son and her husband who is a writer and a poet. “His name is Abdul Ghafoor Fayed Yousfi. He lost all his books on the boat to Greece.” she says.

“I want to go to Germany as soon as possible. We went from Afghanistan to Iran, but the government would not let us work there. In Iran, one of my sons went missing eight years ago when he was 16 and we never heard from him again. I am an engineer. I hope the German government lets me work.”

“I’m not afraid, I will try to go.” she says.

Others are less sure. Mohammad, 35,  from Morocco had just arrived in Athens from Chios that morning and had no idea what his next move should be. “I don’t know what I will do. I just got to Athens from Chios. But the border is closed, so now I’m not sure whether I should go, stay here or go to a camp.”

The EU said that this year it received at least one million asylum applications. Recent events such as the Paris terrorist attacks have caused a major political swing to the right in several countries, and Europe’s once open borders are closing one by one.

Meanwhile in Athens, the Olympic stadiums built to showcase Athens at the height of its glory are filling up with people turned away from the border with nowhere else to go, in search of a Europe that no longer seems to exist.  

***

This article was commissioned by n-tv.de. Their German translation of the English version appears here.

When I was done interviewing Fariba Faeezi, she took her hand and placed it on her belly, smiling. She was a few months pregnant. The teenage boy in the group translating for me hadn’t translated that part – he’d mentioned a pain in her belly while crossing the sea because she was scared. She then asked me to take a picture with her. Here it is:

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Fariba is one of so many refugees who I have met who want to go somewhere safe and make a contribution. She talked very animatedly and for a long time. You don’t need to imagine the odds she had to overcome as a woman in Afghanistan to get her qualifications as an engineer. Her hope that she would make it to Germany and be allowed to work as an engineer with single-minded and tangible.

As she spoke of her children, she used the word gumshudah, which is the same word in Urdu for “missing”.

Her husband later wrote out the names of the whole family in Farsi for me, and again next to the name of their son Javed Yousfi who went missing aged 16 in Iran, eight years ago now, he wrote that same word – gumshudah. I looked at this smiling woman, her short, humble husband who was so happy at how I reacted when I found out he was a poet and I had nothing but admiration for these people who survived patriarchy in Afghanistan, war, being refugees in Iran where they could not work, surviving the journey across the sea and, as parents, somehow surviving the word gumshudah next to the name of one of their children.

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The long road to Eidomeni

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A few weeks ago on a Wednesday afternoon I found myself outside a cafe in downtown Athens, just a few blocks from Victoria Square. I was taking a bus to the north, Eidomeni to be precise, and I’d heard this was the place to arrange such a trip.

I was sitting sitting outside the shisha cafe, my hair and clothes steadily becoming infused with shisha smoke. Keemo, a burly Egyptian with long curly hair and broken Greek asked for a photocopy of my passport, so I went to the PC centre right next door to get one. “Four copies please” I said.

“Two euros.”

Fifty cents a piece for photocopying? I don’t know why it even surprised me, by now I know well enough that anything connected to the refugee situation carries a price tag that it normally never would. Bottles of water for one euro, chocolate bars for 1.50, photocopies for 50 cents.

As we waited to board, people on the table next to me gestured to me. They asked me something in Arabic. “No Arabic,” I said sadly, though for the record that’s set to change soon.

They explained with a mix of English and Greek. This is Ahmad, he’s 15. He’s travelling alone. Could I keep an eye out for him? Unaccompanied minors are everywhere on this refugee trail. I couldn’t imagine making the terrifying journey he undertook at 15 at my age right now. In fact, I was incredibly grateful that I had company with me in the form of Nikos, a documentary maker, on this bus trip.

We were supposed to leave at 8pm. At around 8.30pm a coach pulled up and we started getting on. By 9pm, the bus had been crammed full to its last seat. Behind me, a few mothers sat with their small children, among them eight month old Missam, whose name means flower. Spyros, the bus driver, poked and prodded various parts of the bus. One passenger complained that his seat was broken. “This damn thing is falling apart.” he grumbled. A few more preparations and we began to slowly roll our way out of central Athens to head north.

The mood was a happy one. As the night ran on, I got chatting to some of my fellow passengers. Sitting down at the front was 32 year old Yahyah from Syria. Before the war, he used to work in a cosmetics’ distribution company.

Now, he said, there is nothing in Syria “Only the devil.” He said “Syria was the best country in the world. It was ruined by terrorists. I love Bashar Al Assad, he is the best. But I cannot live in my country because of terrorists” He had his sights set on Norway, a country he has loved since he was a child. “The UAE is not helping. They are not our brothers. Our brothers are Germany, Norway, Holland. Saudi Arabia is supporting terrorists in my country. Why?”

He ticked off where the rest of his family was – seven brothers spread around Europe, one of them in Dubai and one of them still in Syria in the army. One sister and two parents still in Syria.

As we chatted, he seemed surprised that he had found himself where he was, a refugee from a country that up until recently was doing well. “Life was good in Syria” he said, staring out into the dark road in front of us and going quiet for a few moments. I asked him the most obvious question, which is starting to feel stupid to even ask by now: what was the boat journey like? Yahyah explained they had arrived late at night, it had been dark and cold. “The women and children were crying” he said. He searched for the right word, “How is this?” he asked, making a curve in front of his belly with his hand. “Pregnant.” I replied “Pregnant women” he said, shaking his head “They were crying a lot.” Who arranged for the boat? “The Turkish mafia” he said, his eyes widening “The worst people.” I asked him if he ever thought he’d go back to Syria one day. “No” he said firmly “I will never go back.”

Just behind me sat 25 year old Ahmad from Syria via Lebanon. He was upbeat and smiled constantly. He was so happy at reaching Lesvos that he swam the final 50 metres. He then spent 27 hours straight queuing at Moria camp for his papers to make the onward journey.

He flicked through pictures on his smartphone of monkeys in Lebanon, kittens in Turkey and poses with the volunteers who met his boat on the island. The only topic that makes him fall silent is Islamic State. “I don’t like to talk about it” he said.

Buses arriving in Eidomeni

Buses arriving in Eidomeni

The buses are more or less an illegal operation. Certain cafes near Victoria Square sell the tickets for cash, no receipts, and the trip that should take five and a half hours ends up taking nine because of various meandering detours to avoid rumoured police checkpoints. We make several stops during the night. Service stations have bumped up their prices to cash in on this unexpected windfall. At one, hot meals carried a starting price of EUR 8, an extortionate amount for crisis era Greece. Me and Nikos, both hungry after a few hours of travelling, sat down here to grab something to eat. We both complained and joked about the price of the food, and realised no one else was eating, because nearly everyone else was a refugee from one of the handful of buses that had stopped there. They had more important things to do with eight euros.

I tried unsuccessfully to grab a little sleep. Several more hours passed and at last we turned off at a battered and fading road sign that said Eidomeni. We had reached. As we crawled along the road, I could see large white tents glowing out of the darkness.

Eidomeni is a small village sitting within comfortable walking distance of Greece’s border with FYROM/Macedonia. The 2011 census put its population at just 154 inhabitants. The locals themselves tell you there is nothing remarkable about the place, except for the stream of refugees flocking to this outpost to cross into Macedonia. We chatted to Spyros, the bus driver as our bus was held in a queue, asking how long it would take. “We’ve arrived as the police shift is changing. It might take a while. The other day with the heavy rain we were here for six hours sitting in this bus before we were let off.”

The time was 5.23 am. The bus groaned forward across some train tracks and stopped just outside the camp. We got off into the crisp cold air and the thin drizzle as a local volunteer tried to explain what would happen next. We formed two lines and were ushered towards a table for food, water and sanitary items. I wrapped my scarf around my head to try and stay warm in the drizzle – I was already losing my voice by this point – and went off to gauge the situation.

The volunteers told me this wait was unusual. After months of chaos and violent scenes at the border this summer the operation at the border has now fallen into an efficient routine that works “most of the time”, Greek authorities say.

The border with Macedonia opens every 15 minutes to accept a group of 50-80 people. When the buses finally arrive at Eidoumeni, they offload passengers at a rate relevant to the pace of the crossings. Greek police issue each bus load with a number for their group which represents the order in which they will cross. They estimate that on an average day around 5,000 people make the crossing.

Kostas, a local social worker from Kylkis said he wasn’t sure why it was taking so long that particular morning. Either way, there wasn’t much to do except wait it out. I went back to our group and found Yahyah again. I pointed to his shoes, open slippers. “You’ll be very cold with those in Norway” I said. “No, I love the cold!” he replied.

And this is basically what we did for the rest of the day. We waited. The drizzle finally stopped as dawn broke, but all day the sun refused to shine. The hours passed and I said to Nikos “Listen to that. Look how many children are here, and none of them are crying.” My own children by now would have turned themselves inside out from crying and complaining about all the waiting and uncomfortable conditions. Here, the small children had gone into autopilot. I heard almost no crying, and saw very little fussing. The only times I heard children really crying was when a few of them got separated from their parents. It was chaos for a few seconds and people tried various languages – Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish – to get the hysterical child to tell them who they were with.

Children draw at an activity tent. That's Missam smiling

Children draw at an activity tent. That’s Missam smiling

The tents at the camp are a recent development. Before they appeared, people were forced to wait out in the rain and cold for hours with no shelter, and earlier still, people smugglers made them hide in the fields for hours until they crossed. This summer, Macedonia closed the border and there were clashes and tear gas as people tried to push through.

Me and Nikos tried to find a way to kill time, so we wandered around exploring. Behind the large tents are rows of showers and chemical toilets. A volunteer trying to keep the chemical toilets clean was at his wit’s end because of the endless numbers passing through. “I don’t know what they do in their own countries but here you can’t imagine the mess. I’m sick of it! We can never keep it clean even though we don’t stop” He quickly shooed away a child heading for the portable shower. “Shower!” he yelled “Shower! No toilet! This is not a toilet! Toilet over there! I’m cleaning shit out of these showers every day. Why can’t they understand.”

Inside one of the UNHCR tents

Inside one of the UNHCR tents

I went to sit inside one of the large tents. Exhausted people were sleeping everywhere on the grimy floor. The outside air is cool, so the inside is full of houseflies who are taking advantage of how the volume of people in each tent heats it up. Groups of refugees seeing me with my camera asked for their picture to be taken. I wished I had a Polaroid so that I could give the pictures to them. A man noticed me with my camera and notebook and came up to me. His name was Tahir Adrees  and he was with his wife Nida and sons Umar, 9 and Shamal, 3. They decided to leave when a bomb exploded very close to their house. “My younger son was normal. He was a happy boy. Now he screams all the time. I think the bomb changed his brain.” The little boy sitting in his mother’s arms looks around, dazed. I haven’t been to a war zone, but this moving war zone gives some idea of what a shell shocked person looks like. Through his father, Umar describes the nightmares he sees of a man entering their house to kill them. When he grows up, Umar wants to be a teacher.

Sandwiched between two tents, a group was waiting to make the crossing into Macedonia. I noticed a man who stands out because he was smartly dressed and carried a brief case. I started chatting to him and several younger men nearby as Nikos filmed some general shots. They looked agitated. “Please, don’t film us” they ask, so we stop.

They refused to give their names, scared for the family they have left behind in Syria. “We will go anywhere,” said one, pointing to his group “We want to finish studying, I was studying economics, so was he, and this guy was a mechanical engineer.” I thanked them for their time and assured them we wouldn’t use the film we just shot. They asked me again and again – don’t show it, please, don’t show the film. The man I originally started to interview is especially agitated, so I went back to him with my card.

He took it and leaned in to very quietly tell me he used to be a lawyer in Syria. He stressed repeatedly that I must not use his image or any identifying details about him, and then told me, “There were no terrorists in my town. I left because of the regime. Anyone who tells you they support the regime is lying, they only say that because they are so scared of the consequences for their families in Syria.” I promised again. They have had to put their trust in strangers repeatedly, and no matter how much I promised them they didn’t look entirely convinced as they wandered away to cross the border.

I find Ahmad from our group and gave him my number. “Don’t go to the border without me!” I said. “Come with us to Germany!” he said. We chatted for a while and I showed him how I spell my name in Arabic. He took my pen and notepad and wrote an alternative. “This is correct.” he insisted. We jokingly argue over this for a while. “You must be very tired.” I said. “No, I can’t feel my legs now any way.” he answered. Nikos began rolling a cigarette and Ahmad whipped out his smartphone to make a video so that he could learn too.

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Ahmad recording Nikos roll a cigarette

I walked off to poke around the area some more and a little before 1 pm, I got a call from Ahmad to come back to the camp. They would be crossing soon. As we crossed down the embankment to wait, Ahmad started to hum a song. I asked him if he would sing it for me, and he did along with a friend. It was a happy song “A Syrian song” he said. His friend said something to him and Ahmad translates. “He likes your shoes!” he said. I offer to swap and we compare sizes. “No good” said Ahmad. “You have baby feet.”

Trying to swap shoes. Ahmad's friend on the left, Ahmad in the middle, my 'baby feet' on the right.

Trying to swap shoes. Ahmad’s friend on the left, Ahmad in the middle, my ‘baby feet’ on the right.

We walk down past volunteers giving goody bags to the children, to the fencing that is crushed and broken from where the summer’s outbursts took place and then suddenly they cross. I wave goodbye – the Greek police told me I couldn’t go up to Gevgelija station with them as I’d planned. I watched them as they turned off and then they’re gone from my sight. I’m glad they made it, but I stood for a few moments watching the empty space in the thicket where they vanished, wondering what lies ahead, worrying about little Missam and the other children in the group. Would they be safe tonight? Would people be kind to them? My eyes welled up with tears, and I’ve learnt that the way to get past that is to get busy again, so I start taking pictures of the border.

Me and Nikos walked through the silence towards Eidomeni’s settlement. Along the way, I picked up various little things I found at the side of the road, plastic prayer beads, discarded ferry tickets for three adults and one child. At the village’s solitary taverna, the owner tells me his specials. “The other day we had a journalist from the CNN. She ate every single scrap.” he said proudly.

Nearby sat 70 year old Ilias Konstantindis. I asked to interview him and he said “Look, Eidoumeni is not a pretty place, but the whole world knows us now because of this mess. We help them, we offer what we can, but I don’t think they’re all refugees. I worry about what could happen if Muslim fanatics get into Greece.”

His friend sitting at the same table and steadily getting drunk on the local spirits said “Well if you behave yourself nothing will happen to you.”

“I’ve been a migrant myself to Sweden and Germany. I have no issue with migrants. There has been a war in Syria for years, why are they coming now? This is all happening because of the government’s immigration policy.”

“Alexis Tsipras will be in power until you die so don’t die any time soon.” the friend replied, laughing at his own joke.

We make a pit stop at Thessaloniki and then head to the airport to take a flight back to Athens. By now my voice had almost completely gone. I felt exhausted. My bright idea of booking the final flight of the day back to Athens, leaving at nearly midnight doesn’t feel so bright any more.

Back in Athens, I take the airport bus down to Syntagma. It was now 1 am on Friday. I hadn’t slept since getting up at 7 am on Wednesday. At Syntagma, I tried to get into the first taxi I saw. “There’s a rank over there.” the driver told me, so I grumbled as I went to the next taxi and was beaten to it by a little old lady. There was no driver in the third taxi, and the fourth one wouldn’t let me take his taxi because the taxi rank rules say the taxi before him gets me as a customer. I was beyond tired by this point and slammed the door, swearing and complaining loudly to no one about how exhausted I was as I waited by my taxi for the driver. It’s a small taste of how lack of sleep can change your behaviour and something to consider when seeing images of irate refugees losing it as borders close. I just wanted to get home. They have been suspended in a repeat of my journey for weeks on end.

The driver appeared, and we were off. He began chatting. I sank into my seat, silently wishing he would shut up. I was in absolutely no mood to make conversation. He asked me where I was coming from. “Eidomeni” I muttered, explaining about my story. “Eidomeni, eh? Write this down.” he said. Great, I thought. Here comes another racist conspiracy theory. And then he told me a story that really got my attention.

“A few days ago I picked a group of people up outside Athens airport. They had several Louis Vuitton suitcases with them and they were incredibly well dressed. The women were covered in jewellery and wore Rolex watches. They asked me to drive them to Eidomeni. I took them to the registration centre first, because they couldn’t travel without papers. They knew a number to call so when we got there the gates just opened right away even though so many other people were waiting.”

I had heard from various people about more well off Syrians taking taxis directly to Eidomeni, but apart from walking up and down a taxi rank and asking if this had happened at the risk of someone making up a story to get their name in print, I had no way of confirming it. Now, the confirmation had fallen right into my lap.

His name was Yiannis Panagiotopoulos. “All things considered, tolls, petrol, the hours of driving there and back I asked for EUR 1,000 expecting them to protest, and they immediately paid me in cash. Just like that, took out his wallet and peeled off two EUR 500 notes. The were coptic Christians and said Saudi Arabia is giving each non Muslim USD 2,000 and a smartphone to leave because they want Syria for Muslims only.”

“This is my taxi, I own it. You can have my name and take my number too. I’m not making any of this up.” With whatever voice I had left I squeaked my thanks and disembarked outside my home. It was 2:00 am by the time I got to bed.

****

Since then, I have kept track of Ahmad who I met on the bus via social media and WhatsApp. A few days ago, he said he was going to Calais. I begged him not to try to get to the UK, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt so far about the refugees is that they are resilient and determined like nothing I’ve ever seen. Calais’s Jungle camp is a hell hole. Many have died trying to get to the UK, but Ahmad is sure he won’t be one of them, although a few days ago he was downcast in his messages, saying it was very cold and he might go back to Germany after all. I hope he does.

This is the article I wrote from my trip.

Nikos Dayandas who accompanied me on the trip is an award-winning documentary maker. Some of his work can be found here. 

And this is the song Ahmad sang for me before he crossed the border into Macedonia.

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