A med student friend came with me from Thessaloniki to Polikastro/Idomeni this morning, yay! We went with Hummus Rights as usual – the line was very short, probably because of the horrible wind. It also rained last night. For the first time I felt like we had enough, or even too many, volunteers. One of the volunteer girls from Syria brought me to her tent in the old station building – I didn’t even know that it existed. Idomeni is just huge. There were quite a lot of tents there, I think it’s good there because of protection from the rain. And maybe a little bit from the wind too.
Distribution ended around 11 – an hour before the normal time. We started walking towards the railway, when we saw a man trying to rebuild a tent that had fallen down. We stopped to help him; a huge and complicated project it turned out. As this was finalized, I walked over to another man standing in the middle of fallen tents. ”How are you?” I asked. Alhamdulillah, he smiled and shrugged, looking towards the sky. With signs and gestures, he told us how the tent fell down during the nights as the family was sleeping, and how the children had ran off to seek protection in a bigger tent. I’m thinking that it must be traumatizing. Maybe they had experienced similar things before fleeing, but with bombs falling on houses. So they come here to find safety, and Europe gives them falling tents.
Their tents were only one day old, they had received them yesterday. We stood there for a while with him, trying to communicate with a few words and more gestures, not really knowing what to do. He was still smiling. He told me to close my pockets and my bag zippers, so as to not lose any belongings while working. He pointed at a tent hanging on the electricity lines – it had flown away during the morning, and got stuck there.
After some minutes, Maja and I sought protection from the wind behind the latrines. He walked up to us and offered us an apple. We thanked him but declined, and he put it in our pocket. He started to tell us about his home country, Syria. Daesh, Assad, Russia, airplanes and bombs, he explained. Executions. Whole neighbourhoods turned into dust. How schools, homes, hospitals disappeared, and people died. Another man from Syria joined us, and told us the same with English words.
I think this was the closest to tears I’ve been so far, during my stay here. You just feel so powerless. Well, in general here. But today was very painful. Even some of the UNHCR tents had fallen down, as well as tents from different organisations. Shelter, one of the basic human rights. If we would put the tents up, they would just fall again.
We walked on, eventually. So many tents had fallen down or been blown away, I barely recognized the place anymore. I wanted to find the family from some days ago, but I couldn’t find my way. A tent flew past us, I started to laugh hysterically. It hit a man walking down the road.
Down the main road, we saw a man sitting alone among a group of fallen tents. We decided to go and check if he was alright. He was also from Syria, Kurdish, his family had gone somewhere else to seek protection from the wind, and he was waiting there. I suppose they don’t want to leave their belongings and all, in the fallen tents. Shoni bashi, I said. Two other Kurdish men joined us, one of which spoke very well Turkish. What should we do, I signed. Waiting, he said. Waiting for the borders to open. He said that the authorities were all liars, when it came to the relocation program. The military camps are bad. No relocation is being done. What can we do? “Are you studying English now?” I asked. “No,” the man answered, “I cannot concentrate on anything here. My mind is a mess. But if we get to Germany, or Sweden, or another good place, I will learn English.” I’m sure that he will learn it fast. His Turkish is beautiful, after only two years. Many people here speak some Turkish, but few speak it very well.
Suddenly, a police car pulled up the street and waved for us to go there. One of the men went to the road. Obviously, they could not communicate. We decided to also go, all of us. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “You speak English?” the police officer asked back. “Yes,” I answered. He started to say that we shouldn’t be here, for our and everyone’s best. Then my friend arrived, and he asked her where she came from and what she was doing, if she belonged to an organization, and so on. I realised that he saw me as a refugee. Well, that’s not the first time. I answered – “We’re from Sweden, we are independent, we want to help people”. He turned back to me – “You shouldn’t be here!” Oh that’s awkward. He continued: ”It’s better if you go to camps in the city, in Thessaloniki or Athens. Those camps are much better. The borders are closed. If borders were open, you would all crossed. The borders are closed, why are you here?” I was confused for a while, before realizing that he still thought that I was a refugee. “You have no mind!” he said. I told him that I was also a volunteer, so he turned to the man next to me instead – ”YOU don’t have mind”.
The men from before explained to me that they didn’t want to go to military camps. Many people have apparently gone there, and then returned as the conditions have been too bad in regards of food, water and sanitation, and so on – as opposed to the claims of the policemen. “Why is no one (volunteers, organisations) allowed to enter?” he asked me hypothetically, “Because the conditions are bad. If we go there, no one will see us. Yes it’s bad here, but you are here, volunteers are here, media is filming, people can know what is happening to us. If we go there, no one knows what is happening to us”.
The warehouse was a bit of a mess when I arrived; we had a lot of volunteers from other organisations there. The problem was that everyone was new; apparently they had nothing else to do today. One hour later, everyone left, so then the warehouse was very empty. We received some trucks in the back, and a van from Italy also approached us in the front. Their shipment was not labelled, so they were forced to do that in order for us to accept the items. Poor things. The stuff they brought was really good though.
We will sleep in the car tonight again, just because we can. Not yet though, still some more sorting to do.