All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]
Fotografie: Stefania Zanier
After less than forty days, the solidarity relay #OverTheFortress is back in Idomeni, on the Greece-Macedonia border. The situation seems different, and from a logistical point of view it is. Yet the systematic violation of the right of asylum persists, perpetrated at the gates of Fortress Europe before the blind eye of international monitoring bodies, starting with UNHCR, whose local officer holds the headquarters responsible for the failed advocacy (she also revealed us that she is not in very close contact with the headquarters).
At the crossing point, opened specifically for the hundreds of people that transit through the two countries on a daily basis, there are no tents left. The only ones are those set up along the train track - still in use - that connects the crossing and screening point with the area where the numerous buses arriving from Greece drop the people down. These buses are owned by about a dozen private companies, and drive to the border the migrants arriving by ferry to Kavala or Athens from the Greek islands (Lesbos, Mitilene, Kos, Samo). The cost for getting to Idomeni varies between 30 and 60 euros, depending on point of departure, route, and which company’s offer is chosen. A young man told us about “tourist offices” where migrants buy their tickets.
Before getting to Idomeni, everyone has to pass by the EKO gas station near Polykastro, where the buses stop while the traffic at the border gets regulated. Once at the border, people get off the buses and walk along the train track, pushed by the Greek police officers, and make use of what is offered to them in the international operators’ tents; among them, we could recognize UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Praxis, Arxis, and Save the Children; however we wonder whether it makes sense for some of them to be there.
Alongside with them, a group of (mainly German and British) independent volunteers, runs a collection and distribution tent for clothing and shoes that, given the cold weather, is very much appreciated by everyone, but especially by people of “unwelcome nationality”, who need more than anyone else warm clothing and blankets to survive the following days.
As a matter of fact, in the last couple of months, only Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans have been allowed to enter Macedonia; everyone else gets stopped at the border. Therefore, some of them try to escape through the fields, in order not to get on the bus back to Athens, which would cost them additional money, and carry them farther away from their desired destination.
Families usually don’t dare to escape, as it is too risky and dangerous. Whoever manage to do that, generally finds shelter in the so-called jungle, an informal and precarious space, where the “rejected” gather.
This jungle is located in the woods behind the gas station and next to Hotel Hara, hangout for traffickers of all nationalities and rest stop for those who can afford it. Sheltered in ruins hidden by trees, people warm up around campfires made of a range of different materials and burning straw collected around. The air is thick with heavy smoke, while people wait for the “right moment” to cross the border or hit the road.
The trip organized by traffickers costs about 800 euros, and consists in a first section of the route to cover by foot heading east, followed by a bus ride to Belgrade, as a Moroccan kid tells us, after enthusiastically giving us his Facebook contact before hitting the road. “C’est le bon moment”, he says; in four days he got to Belgrade, and four days later he was already in Germany.
The jungle is yet another space of segregation and arbitrary screening, where only independent volunteers and MSF’s mobile unity bring some help to those who live there.
The screenings based on nationality start on the Greek islands. Upon arrival, people are identified (by submitting their fingerprints) and given a temporary residence permit to stay in Greece for 30 days, by which they either have to leave the country or to formalize their asylum application.
People from Algeria and Morocco are excluded from the process, and they get often detained in detention camp like the one in Corinth, even when in possession of a valid ID. People from Pakistan, Iran, or Palestine, although not in the “welcome nationalities” list, benefit of more freedom of movement.
These pyramid of rights does nothing but exacerbate the rivalry, allowing Afghan or Iraqi families in only after Syrian families, yet before single men of any nationality, who in turn have more rights than a Pakistani newborn.
The Balkan route, day after day, looks more and more like a marathon where human rights can’t even compete.
Francesca Carbone and Angela Lovat, Ospiti in Arrivo, #overthefortress solidarity relay