Idomeni is a little village at the outskirts of the Kouri hill, at the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Because of its position, Idomeni has always been an obliged route to the refugees that wanted to reach Germany and other North European countries from Siria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Following Serbian government’s decision to close Serbian-Macedonian border, in 2015 the Republic of Macedonia decided to militarize its borders too. In a very little time after that decisions, Idomeni has been forced to become a territory of staying instead of being a border-crossing zone, dramatically increasing its population.
From 2011 Hellenic Statistical Authority data reported in Wikipedia we know that the stable inhabitants of Idomeni used to be 154, but nowadays the forced inhabitants of Idomeni are over 10 thousands, creating a situation never dealt with before.
On 24th March I started my trip to Idomeni from the city of Catania, and after a two days’ journey I reached the Idomeni camp with an humanitarian caravan called #marchoverthefortress, formed by almost 300 people from all over Italy, trying to bring some help to the people of Idomeni on two fronts: the political one, because we want to mobilitate consciences around the EU seeking to force the European governments to review their immigration policies in the sense of opening their borders and let these people reach European countries; the humanitarian one, trying to bring these people over 5 vans full of medicines, shoes, kids’ toys and some kind of hope for the future.
On 26th March I got my first approach to the Idomeni camp: when I arrived my first sensation was of shame. I was ashmed to be an European citizen, because in every way you want to tell it, the situation in Idomeni it’s Europe’s fault.
All these people concentrated in that great field, fighting everyday against the cold, the rain and the severe weather, using these normal camping tents – not very different from the one we use to bring during our camping trips – and their tenacity to survive, trying to live ordinary life in an extraordinary time.
At the end of my little trip to Idomeni, I immediatly thought that the sentence from one of Lucio Dalla’s most famous song, Disperato Erotico Stomp, which says “The outstanding business, listen to me, it’s being normal!” perfectly fit to all these people in the mud.
«ma l’impresa eccezionale, dammi retta, è essere normale» [Lucio Dalla]
Walking with them, talking with them, I always perceived this everyday seek for normality. They always repeated to me “Tell everyone, we do not want food, clothes or medicines, we just want to reach Europe to finally live our lives”. What they’re asking us it’s simple and legitimate, they have done thousands of kilometres to arrive here, and they’re asking for the same things that we are looking for: education for their little childrens – remind that almost the 40% of the population of Idomeni refugees consists of under-18s that do know what war is, but never went to school since the start of their journey – and the possibility to complete their studies, dramatically interrupted by war – the regime of Bashar al Assad, after the beginning of Syrian civil war in 2011, introduced mandatory conscription for young people aged under 30 and let them no choice: embrace a gun or get away – and the chance of having jobs and houses.
“Tell everyone, we do not want food, clothes or medicines, we just want to reach Europe to finally live our lives”
Why our goverments do not want them to get these possibilities? Are they somehow fearing the fortitude of their souls or by the broadness of their smile in these terrible times? Extreme right-wing parties, but also some government parties, tell us that perhaps in these refugees camps there could be terrorists or violent and perilous people, but all I saw in Idomeni were young normal people – not lots of adults or old men in the camp because of the long and backbreaking trip to Europe – and a lot of childrens running through the mud, smiling, laughing and playing like every little European child would.
Maybe these politicians take advantages from this climate of terror because it’s easier to get votes from fear than from truth, telling people that all these refugees are a threat to ‘European values’, but if Europe was built from solidarity and respect for the dignity of human beings, I could tell you that I saw more solidarity and respect in these poor and terrible situations than in the most civilized regions of the world, and surely more than in Bruxelles’ power rooms.
To let you understand what I’m telling you, in my first day in Idomeni I knew a wonderful guy named Ahmed, 29, from Syria, which, after some diffidence for my camera – when we first met, his family was still in Syria and he was scared because he thought that if Assad’s regime would see a photo of him it may hurt them – got friend with me and decided to guide me in the camp, translating to the people that would not understand my English. After a day in the camp, getting around and receving friendship and solidarity from all the people I knew, I was almost coming back to my hotel when Ahmed called me, “Antonio please come with me and have dinner togheter!”. Me and other volounteers around me suddenly joined this dinner that Ahmed’s ‘family’ on the camp prepared for us with means of fortune: let me tell you that I was amazed by the richness and the goodness of that meal, worthy of a king.
During the two days spent in the Idomeni refugees camp I met a lot of people, we shared cigarettes, hookah, chai and ordinary life moments and I really enjoyed my time, quite like we all forgot the difficulty of their situation. We laughed, we cry, we played music – during the tour of camp with Ahmed we met a group of Syrian Kurds that invited me playing with them their traditional chants, sharing a wonderful moment I will never forget – and we just tried to keep normal and mantain patience.
I don’t know if these words are enough in order to make justice to these people which lives are freezed by egoism and blindness of European authorities, an undetermined lapse of time forcing them to live in Idomeni, that strange place where ordinary and extraordinary fit together. Idomeni, that strange place that, for what I can tell you, it is a foolish midway between a normal family camping and a war camp.
I wish the best to the people I met there, for me you are my Europe and you are and always will be welcome!
[Il medesimo reportage da Idomeni, in italiano, è disponibile a questo link – The Italian version of this reportage from Idomeni can be found following this link]