Idomeni Refugee Camp Spotlight

The title of this article should more realistically read Idomeni: Refugee "Camp" Spotlight. The Idomeni refugee camp in northern Greece was not formally established to house refugees and migrants, rather it were birthed out of crisis, the illegitimate child of Syria's war and Europe's fear. In the past months most refugees and migrants have gotten to Europe by crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey to the Greek Islands. From there many took trains north into the heart of Europe, to rendezvous with family members or to apply for asylum in countries like Germany and the UK. In February all that changed.

The Balkan countries (Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia) introduced restrictions on the numbers of migrants and refugees who could pass through each day. Then Macedonia built a fence on their border with Greece and shut out the migrants altogether. Since then a growing number of refugees and migrants have temporarily settled outside of Idomeni, a Greek border town, waiting and hoping for the borders to be opened.

(Spoiler: They never were.)

On March 18th the EU struck a deal with Turkey which will return all migrants who arrive in Greece back to Turkey. For those who were stuck at Idomeni prior to March 18th, another border will not open to them. They must apply for asylum in Greece. If their claims are accepted, they will be resettled in Greece, and if they are denied they will be deported. It has been a month since the EU-Turkey deal was finalized, and yet, the thousands of tents at Idomeni have not disappeared. In fact, conditions there have worsened.

Weeks of rain at the end of March have rendered the Idomeni refugee camp a health risk as sickness, both physical and mental, spread among the nearly 14,000 inhabitants. Last week migrants and refugees, desperate not to be forgotten by the world, gathered at the border fence and begged for it to be opened. Their pleas were met with tear gas and rubber bullets from the Macedonian police. Now, a rumor has surfaced that Greece plans to clear the shanty town beginning in May. One can only hope that such action is meant to improve the lives and health of the migrants and refugees currently living in the camp. And yet a sinking feeling remains that there will be an unfortunate few who will fall through the cracks of European bureaucracy and wrongfully end up thousands of miles away, right back where they started.

Visit here to find out more about what life is like in Idomeni.

Image Source: Tim Lüddemann via Flickr