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During our journey to Idomeni for #overthefortress we met many activists, volunteers and refugees. A lot of them are europeans that are following the situations for months, struggling under heavy rains. The migrants live in inhuman condition and each of them have a meaningful story. We met a man which had scarf all over his body caused by electrical wires. He was tempting to enter an empty wagon to sleep. He lived for 30 days in a near death coma. Now he lives in a occupied orphanotrophy in Thessaloniki, sharing it with greeks, internationals and other refugees.
We want to tell two stories: one about a sirian family and one about a couple of activists. Yesterday, all of them crossed the river at the greek-macedonian border with other 1500 people.
Escape from the dirty war
In Idomeni we met a family coming from Syria. A brother and a sister with another women and her child. All of them have less than 30 years, the child only two. They asked us to not write heir names because they are telling to their families that the situation is fine, but it is not.
They leaved Aleppo about a month ago, then they arrived in Turkey and crossed the turkish- greek border illegally, on a boat. Now they find themselves stuck at Idomeni since twenty days ago. They are trying to enter Europe because the women and the man have the husband and wife respectively in Belgium and France.
They don’t want to apply for asylum in Greece because it would mean being able to see their loved ones not before one year. In addition, they are fully aware of the economic situation in Greece and they know that they would have very few opportunities to find a job. An activist told us that about 80% of the population living in the area is unemployed . Not even the proposal of relocation is acceptable for them: be randomly placed in a European country for them might mean not to be able to meet their relatives until the completion of the request process for the asylum recognition.
They confessed that to the situation where they are forced to live - in a tent exposed to rain and mud - they preferred the war. They have not dry clothes, or blankets or sleeping bags, and they have a child. They have no way of washing and toilet facilities are minimal and in bad condition. Both the kid and the girl had fever recently.
Getting stuck at the border, in inhumane conditions, with no hope of proceeding, leaves them in great despair. We must add that they were very kind to us and they were happy to speak. We walked togheter around the camp and waited with them the long line to get to see the doctor, for a toothache. They managed to get a bit of antibiotics, painkillers and a toothbrush. They asked the doctor where they could brush their teeth, and they were answered "in the rain". Later they brought us in their tents, they were really hospitable and they insisted to offer us somethings to drink and to eat. They showed us that the dignity of these people is higher than the poverty in which they find themselves.
Yesterday, while we were on our way bsck to Italy, when they saw the other 1,500 people heading for the border crossing the river, they hoped it was the right time to finally be able to arrive in Europe and seeing again their loved ones. Despite being warned that it was very dangerous, and probably useless, they had to try. At the end all migrants were blocked by Macedonian police who brought them to the Greek police. After asking them where they came from, how they got there, if they were married and if they had a job, the Greek police withdrew their passports and did not provide any explanation
A family under the bombs in Aleppo with loved ones in Europe: a common destiny for many people stranded in Idomeni and other European borders. Their only crime is to seek freedom from war and a dignified life. For this reason they risk to be deported to a country that can not even guarantee the respect of human rights for its citizens.
Forgotten in Idomeni: solidarity
David and Lisa are two activists that since October live in a camper in Idomeni. They try to help and support migrants. They had distributed clothes, food, supplies, and what they could collect. They created the Facebook page Forgotten in Idomeni, which today has more than 6000 likes, to continuously keep updates about the evolution of the situation in that area. They shared many demonstrations against the borders, even this winter when protests were much more radical. They have accompanied the wounded migrants in hospital or in the country when needed and hey want to continue to do so. They are not paid by anybody or supported by any association to do so.
Yesterday, as every day, they were at the border when they saw about 2,000 people leaving the camp. As always we decided to follow them to report what was happening. Someone, not one of the volunteers, has distributed a leaflet in which the way to enter in Macedonia was reported across a river. In the text published it was said that the refugees remained in Idomeni would be deported to Turkey. The leaflet also reported a map showing the way to enter illegally in Macedonia. That flyer has endangered thousands of people.
They knew it was a risk, but they decided to act anyway, they told people that it was a bad idea and that would bring many problems. They tried to explain to the migrants that they could have been beaten, arrested, detained or they could die.
But after three weeks blocked in Idomeni, of which the last past in the rain and in the mud, many migrants decided to try it anyway because they thought they had nothing more to lose.
When the group arrived at the river, they began to cross it. The river was very dangerous. At first the two activists tried to explain to people that this was too much for families. The migrants decided to continue, many of them fell and felt bad, but fortunately there were volunteers, activists and photographers who did not leave them alone. The couple was not able to stay and watch without doing anything, so they acted. There were families with babies and children, people in wheelchairs. In the same river just hours before three people drowned: a pregnant woman, her sister and their cousin. They came from Afghanistan.
Once across the river they continued to follow the group. They could not leave alone all those families who were walking on the mountains without water, food or blankets. Many activists and volunteers entered the Macedonian territory without knowing why there was no signal. The army arrested about 50 people including volunteers and activists. Even journalists and photographers were arrested. After two hours of waiting they were taken to the police station in Gevgelija. Macedonian police did not create problems, however the Czech police insulted and threatened them. Some of the volunteers have been called "bitch". They had to pay € 530 and received an expulsion from the country for the next six months. They are now trying to figure out what to do, to continue the stay necessitates money.
For those wishing to help them pay the fine there is a Paypal address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We as a country #overthefortress will not miss our contribution.
It’s really important to support those who daily help migrants, with their presence and their bodies, both in the sun, in the mud and water. It is also important to fight those who criminalize migration.
We wanted to tell these two stories to give and idea of what it’s experienced every day at the border. A hell in which destinies and hopes sink, destroyed by Fortress Europe. In these two stories, one can see the two main aspects of today’s migration and the huge solidarity that has developed in recent months in Europe. On the one hand the Syrian family is an example of the migrant blocked on the border in poor condition at the mercy of criminal policy decisions; on the the other, volunteers and activists from dozens of different countries come to help and to show solidarity to these people, to act with your body for what is right.
About Idomeni you have the clear perception of how migration management is completely political, ruthlessly cynical and imprinted on decisions that do not take the slightest concern for the rights of the people. Europe, now, will rely completely on Erdogan to stop these flows. It will rely to a country that does not deal migrants and their real integration, but that encloses them in refugee camps, where people die slowly, day after day. The same country that finances Daesh, more and more evident, arresting journalists who dare to report him. Turkey itself fight kills every day the Kurds in an ethnic war within his own State.
For all these reasons we will return to the greek-Macedonian border along with hundreds of activists on March 25 for #Overthefortress March, leaving from the port of Ancona. To reiterate that this is NOT our Europe.
Angela and Tommaso, March 15, 2016, #overthefortress
* Photographs by Lisa email@example.com that we thank