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The battle for human rights fought behind the barbed wire of the Greek-Macedonian border.

Thessaloniki, GR - Within two years some of the most important values and constitutional principles of the European Union have been called into question. At first its weaknesses in foreign policy have been highlighted by the Ukrainian crisis, with the Foreign Affairs delegate not present at the negotiations for the annexation of Crimea into Russia. Secondly, in July 2015 German Minister for Economics Wolfgang Schaeuble has proposed the exit of Greece from the Euro zone, mining the principles of cohesion and strength of the economic and monetary union.
Now, after the signing of the deal between Brussels and Ankara, once again the European values framework is shaking, with thousands of refugees risking to be used by Turkey as bargaining chip for funds and for a speeding up of its process of membership with Europe.

It is clear that the European Union incompetence regarding foreign policy and social emergencies managing has led to a major humanitarian crisis, stranding as much as 50.000 refugees only in Greece.
In Idomeni, a small village at the Greek-Macedonian border, the number of migrants has reached quota 12.000, half of whom children, sometimes even not accompanied, with the humanitarian organisations that struggle providing help and shelter for everyone.

Here, in the mud before the barbed wire and the fencing that draw the border line between the two countries, lie the dreams of Syrians, Afghans, Kurds and not only, all people who are fleeing from wars and persecutions. Most of them has left their motherland in order to look for a better future, to live safely, to not worry whether the next bomb will hit them or their neighbours.

The war has taken their every day life: their houses, their jobs and, like Nahed and Noora tell, their families.
They are sisters, respectively 27 and 29 years old, from Aleppo. Nahed has just obtained her bachelor, while Noora was a dentist nurse in her hometown before the revolution began. They escaped from the Russian and Syrian bombings and arrived in Idomeni over a month ago, hoping to be able to cross the Balkans and join their sister who is currently living in Germany, but the European bureaucracy has caught them here stopping their journey.
The two sisters now live in one of the big tents provided by Médecins Sans Frontières and where about 150 people find shelter every day, for sure better than the camping tents in which most of the people of the camp live at the moment.

In the same places lives also Sarmad, 18, from Damascus countryside. He wears an old and worn-out green jacket, but has a big smile on his face and the hand stretched out as sign of friendship. He arrived in Idomeni in February after a journey lasted almost two months, and now waits here for Macedonia to open again the border in order to continue his course across the Balkans. In Damascus he had almost finished his secondary education when the revolution arrived in 2011, overwhelming everything and everyone and not leaving him any other choice than to leave school. “My dream is to become a doctor one day, to help whoever is in needs” Sarmad says. A wish that probably, as many others here, is destined to stay that way . The blame is for sure to be put on the terrible conflict going on in Syria which still stay unsolved, but on the other hand the ineffective answer that Europe proposed in order to solve the crisis is surely not helpful and it has actually condemned thousands of people in the Greek limbo.
People of any age, from newborn to elderly on a wheelchair, that often are also in need of psychological support , as in fact in Sarmad case: “Since he got hit during a shelling h e's not the same anymore ” , one of his friends tells. Luckily the bombs did not fall so close to seriously wound him, but close enough to leave permanent scars in his soul.
In the camp many are the people who, like him, suffer from post-traumatic disorders and should be taken care of, but sadly at the moment there are other priorities that come first than this one, such as food and accomodation.

By now Idomeni has become a bottleneck where people from the world's worst war torn countries every day hope to enter Macedonia and continue their journey along the Balkan route. Unfortunately, the chances to succeed are few, with no other option than the dangerous and expensive one provided by smugglers or the asylum process alternative, which may takes months, maybe years, to get through.

In Idomeni, as anywhere else, the face of a smuggler is that of a taxi driver, of a pedlar, of a family man. The prices are extremely high, usually not cheaper than €5000 per person for a ride from Macedonia to Paris. A huge amount compared with an average of €2200 that everyone must pay in order to get here, as Sulaiman, 37, married and father of five, says from what he experienced.
This is anyway a price worth to be paid, obviously in advance, taking the risk of being robbed of all the possessions or, even worse, to fall in the hands of merciless kidnappers.
While he keeps telling his story, Sulaiman shows me the video he shot on the boat which took him on the island of Kios (the strip of land visible in the distance). At his left the younger of his daughters. shows the video he shot on the dinghy during the crossing of the Aegean sea from the Turkish coast. In the short clip you can see 58 people squeezed on an overloaded boat in the middle of nowhere, which at the end barely manages to land on an island, Kios.

On the humanitarian side the tireless work carried out by UNHCR, MSF and all the independent organizations is huge. This is one of the first humanitarian crisis where mobile phones, internet and social media are playing a fundamental role, not only by keeping the refugees in touch with their relatives or friends abroad, but also on an organisational basis. Dozens are the self organised groups that based on social media and using crow-funding came in Greece filling the gaps in support during the crisis. Rather than be labelled as volunteers, many of them prefer to be called ordinary citizens that replied to a cry for help which could not stay unheard.

"We are currently receiving several enquiries per day and over 150 people registered to volunteer. The flexibility they demonstrate and the way that some have just stepped up to make decisions and take responsibilities, as well as establishing supportive relationships, is admirable" as Lorty from Forgotten In Idomeni explains, "A DIY mentality at its best" . Indeed, while NGOs have their roles, they can be less flexible than independent groups, and can get tied up in red tape. "The way volunteers can manage to look after themselves, take initiative, get stuck in, is quite amazing. I do worry sometimes about how sustainable it is" , Lorty says referring to the significant stress volunteers might experience alongside living closely to such a traumatised population. "When we experience just how intransigent states can be and how heavy the struggle for human rights is, it can be very affecting" Lorty adds. But the general goodwill and all the efforts put in place are a collective source of strength and self support for all the people that came here to give their help.

Nonetheless the Greek population is also doing its part by putting into action the so called concept of Philotimo, a word impossible to translate into English.
A trademark that identifies the concepts of honour, proudness and duty mixed together, the soul of a population and a spirit of union that carries on since the times of Socrates and the Ancient Greece. This is what naturally pushes Greeks to welcome entire families of refugees into their houses and to share with them the same roof and food.

In spite of all these contributions it is still not easy for the refugees to survive, especially for those who live in the camps and have spent most of their money travelling. So, many are those who join the black market in order to raise some money and buy food.
As Christopher tells me, this is how he wants to be called since he has undertaken his odyssey, in order to get his food he has set up a cigarette business: one packet of cigarettes €3, two packets €5. In the small black market arose in the camp he can find vegetables, fruit, canned food and drinks, with prices from €3, for a potato or a piece of bread, to €5 for a can of fishes and other products.
Christopher is from Iraq, from the city of Mosul, and like many others he is escaping from ISIS, just another nightmare after Saddam Hussein's regime, the subsequent conflict and the still ongoing civil war.
But he is also escaping from a society where he he was not fitting in, from the limitations of a lifestyle he could not stand anymore and the fear of being beheaded for his Western mentality: “Too many restrictions, too many limitations” he says with the poor English he learnt at University. In fact, in Mosul he was studying business and management, but now he dreams to go to Finland and to become a professional basketball player, "like Michael Jordan, he's a champion" he says smiling.

The results of the deal that Europe signed with Ankara will be disastrous for all these people if another solution will not be found soon.
In this moment we are witnessing the exodus of a whole society: from the bricklayer to the engineer, from the teacher to the doctor. Most of these people are not interested in settling in Europe, their only concern is when the war in their countries will end and when it will be possible for them to go back to their homeland, so to go back to an ordinary life and to start rebuilding their towns.

At the moment it is evident that Turkey alone will not be able to deal with all the refugees that are still coming from Syria and furthermore with those that will be deported back in from Europe. The same for Greece, which is already in a state of emergency and ironically is not even receiving any help from the European Community, in spite of the €6 billions promised to Erdogan's government.
These are countries that are already struggling at fighting internal problems, such as the current economic crisis and the recession, without mentioning the issues Turkey has with the fundamental freedoms of expression and the by now twenty years long conflict with the Kurds population.
To close the borders is not a solution, neither a short nor a long-term one, and it will not make things any better. The flow of refugees will not stop, it will just change its path, eventually funding the human trafficking and increasing the number of people who every year arrive in Europe illegally.

Under the light of these preconditions it comes natural to ask yourself some questions: should we still talk about this Europe as a Union of nations that cooperate between each others? Are these still the same countries which signed the European Convention on Human Rights for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms?
In the meantime Idomeni has become for many, both refugees and European citizens, the emblem of a broken dream: the European dream. But among the migrants that keep protesting on the railway that connects Greece with Macedonia. the idea of another route through Albania and then Italy is starting to take hold as alternative to the Balkan route.

Ola Al-Rifai, a 25 year-old mathematician from Aleppo. In
Syria,she had just graduated when she had to flee from war
and ended up stranded in Idomeni. Ola is now waiting for the
Greek-Macedonian border to open again. Her dream is, once
settled in Germany with her sister, to resume her post-
graduate studies and earn a doctorate.

Thousands of tents are pitched outside the dismissed Idomeni
train station. On this one, its occupants wrote a message of
hope for Angela Merkel alongside the stages of their journey:
from Syria to Austria, the final long-hoped for destination.

Adnan, 49, in Syria was an oil worker. For more than a month
now, together with some a hundred more people, he is resident
in UNHCR's "Tent three". Adnan is travelling with two of his
children; Portrayed on his cellphone, the third of his sons, 17,
who has spent the last two years in a Damascus jail accused
- Adnan says falsely - of colluding with the Syrian Free Army.

This lonely no-man's land, until few months ago inhabitated
just by few farmers and only crossed by the Thessaloniki
Skopje railtrack, another line has now been tracked, one
made of barbed wire.

Ryad al-Dawil, 20 (left) was a college student reading maths
until war disrupted his education. He and his best friend
Mahmoud Suleiman (right), 27, electronics engineer, paid
$1600 each to smugglers to escape to Greece. They love hip-
hop. Akon is playing from a tinny speaker in their small tent
while they talk. Ryad: "We are going to Germany because it
is a country of peace. My mother is still in Syria. My father
and brother died in an air attack a year ago”. Mahmoud,
instead, was jailed by the Assad regime for refusing to fight
in the army, and tortured for eight months. “We just dream
of peace and life, inshallah.”

A child hanging on to the main gate of Diavata refugee
camp, not far from Thessaloniki.