Around the beginning of 2015, more than before, an influx of people escaping war zones and unbearable economic situations in certain parts of the world started risking their lives in the hope of finding safety and perhaps a better life in Europe. Many have managed to arrive and settle, others have drowned in the waters between islands and others got stuck in a village in Greece not exactly known previously as it is now, called Idomeni.
In Idomeni, there are children, men, women, old, young and any demographic that comes to mind. Before the Paris attacks in November 2015, the borders were open for crossing by the refugees mostly hoping to end their journey in Germany. But since the unfortunate events, borders were shut and again reopened discriminately to certain nationalities considered fleeing ‘officially recognised’ war zones; Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The rest, coming from North African countries, Iranians, Eritreans or Somalis got stuck in a camp that was initially made to be nothing but a transition point. Before the blockage, many NGOs were already present giving aid to the passers-by. After the blockage, existing organisations had to expand their tasks and adapt to ever growing needs of the people who are forced to stay hoping for a merciful decision to be made about the border.
Quickly more NGOs intervened and more volunteer groups started calling attention to the situation. Today, people are arriving and helping at Idomeni camp where I found myself on the ground helping with my team in monitoring public health, understanding cultural differences, distributing food and basic necessities. Even though we eventually go back home to warm showers and comfy beds, we still find it difficult to stand for long hours in the cold of the night inhaling the smoke from burning wood in the open fields while children and old women have to endure these conditions for days, nights, weeks and I don’t know how long.
Most of the people we interact with in the camp are young Arabic or Persian speaking men, and they ask us for hope. They ask about the borders opening and their future chances of a better life. They know we don’t have answers nor power to open any border but still, being heard and given albeit neutral answers gives them a feeling of recognition they need. Women and children are mostly afraid to roam about between the frustrated young men of different nationalities because these frustrations in the cold weather aided by hunger can grow into fights, harassment and lots of tension among the many small communities living on limited material and food supply.
Speaking with some people also reveals a naivety in their understanding of Europe and what it represents. I often wanted to say to some that Europe really isn’t that freedom haven they imagine it to be, not the paradise of economic prosperity, or at least not the kind of freedom that’s worth such risk and sacrifice. When we were on the island of Lesbos, from which you can see Turkish shores, we saw people arriving in the most vulnerable boats, in big numbers one breath away from drowning in the rough seas. When seen in reality, it is a whole different experience to realise that yes someone is willing to take that much risk for the hope of safety and perhaps a comfortable life. Yet, Europe keeps closing its doors and the dreams remain on the abandoned boats.
It is a dilemma. On the one hand, politics in the regions where they come from are an absolute catastrophe embodied in wars and multi-layered conflicts, aided by the politics of the very Europe they dream about. On the other hand, their lack of exposure and education about what it means to be free, what does it mean to have rights or not and how it all plays out in their own real lives feeds them a recipe for self-destruction. And they take it.
From my own inhibited and unheard standpoint, from this little ranting platform that social media is, the blame goes out to every politician who made a mother feel her child is safer at sea than land. To every head of state who didn’t recognise the importance of knowledge and prioritised militarisation over education. To every person who terrorised, discriminated and divided by religious blindness. To every coloniser who weakened and exploited the resources of a people for their own gain ignoring the consequences and the price the whole world will eventually pay. To anyone who made a Somali woman tell me, with a sad smile on her face, that she would prefer to die here in the cold of Idomeni than to go back where she came from, for freedom.