News / Europe

    Refugees Ask, 'Why Don’t The Europeans Want Us?'

    Sunset approaches on the Greek-Macedonian border Friday and refugees -- mostly Syrian and Iraqis -- prepare for another night waiting to see if the border will be reopened. (J. Dettmer/VOA)
    Sunset approaches on the Greek-Macedonian border Friday and refugees -- mostly Syrian and Iraqis -- prepare for another night waiting to see if the border will be reopened. (J. Dettmer/VOA)

    As the sun rose over northern Greece Saturday and the damp mist slid away, refugees, mostly Syrians and Iraqis, lit fires again in muddy fields and prepared for another day of struggle — of foraging for food, queuing for toilets and wondering if the Macedonians would open the border or would instead continue to block their passage into Europe.

    The adults roused themselves, and the sprawling makeshift refugee camp came alive with bleary-eyed children.

    For days now most of the children have gone unwashed — there are only a handful of washing facilities available for a burgeoning population of asylum-seekers that U.N. officials here say numbers 12,000 people.

    Refugees queue up for food; they can wait in line for three or four hours. (J. Dettmer/VOA)
    Refugees queue up for food; they can wait in line for three or four hours. (J. Dettmer/VOA)

    Workers from the French charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), the real driving force of relief efforts at Idomeni, acknowledge the facilities are inadequate and are urging other international non-profits to provide more assistance in the face of insufficient support from Greek and European authorities.

    MSF Spokesman Gemma Gillie says the French charity can''t continue without more international NGOs helping with more resources. She says European governments bear responsibility but are not doing enough. (J. Dettmer)
    MSF Spokesman Gemma Gillie says the French charity can''t continue without more international NGOs helping with more resources. She says European governments bear responsibility but are not doing enough. (J. Dettmer)

    “We are desperately calling for people to come and support us,” said Gemma Gillie, MSF’s spokesperson in Greece.

    MSF has 135 staff here who are distributing thousands of meals and blankets a day.

    “For us this is unsustainable. We can’t keep going at this rate. There is a constant stream of people arriving every morning. But to be honest these people have come to Europe for safety and it is the responsibility of European governments to meet their needs and not NGOs. We are trying to fill the gap,” Gillie said. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a small presence here; so too the charity Save the Children.

    MSF is running a 20-strong medical team — and a couple of other relief organizations, the Greek Red Cross and Greek charity Praxis are providing smaller medical teams to assist. But the medical operation isn’t enough to cope with the demand. The MSF tent facility was designed to accommodate 1,500 refugees.

    Medical needs

    Many refugees, especially the children, have respiratory infections. The asylum-seekers are suffering also from gastric ailments and diarrhea. “All basic illnesses associated with not having adequate shelter and adequate hygiene facilities,” said Gillie.

    Many of the old are weak and have preexisting conditions, like 77-year-old Dahab from Damascus. She is sitting in a wheel-chair being comforted by her son and his wife, who is six months pregnant.

    They have been at Idomeni for ten days. And if the border isn’t opened what then? “We have nothing," she said. "I don’t know what will happen to us.” She wants to join another daughter who is in Holland.

    Gillie said there are also psychological needs not being met.

    “We are seeing signs of trauma amongst adults and children alike. We have one psychologist doing group and individual sessions for people who are suffering various mental health issues associated with the journey, what they fled or the current situation they are in now. The anxiety about not knowing what is going to happen is putting a strain on people. The not-knowing is difficult. There are some people who have been here for more than two weeks and they are fed up and sick of waiting and don’t understand why they are being halted.”

    Tension on the border

    Feeling the tension on the border and seeing on the other side soldiers and Humvees, some of the children ask whether Macedonia and Greece are at war. The sound of a helicopter prompts some Syrian kids who associate choppers with barrel-bombs instinctively ducking.

    The strain for the refugees shows at times among the adults.

    On Thursday a fight broke out in one of the food distribution lines. Tempers flare quickly. On Friday, relief workers several times had to shout at people to step back.

    Also on Thursday, an Iraqi husband beat up his wife — news photographers were quick to snap her bloodied face.

    Even so, relief workers remain amazed at the overall patience of the refugees. Monday’s incident, when 200 or 300 people clashed with Macedonian border guards, is being seen by relief workers as more the fault of the guards than the refugees.

    “The refugees were peacefully protesting, they shook the fence and then the guards started to hit them with batons. That prompted the refugees to throw stones at the guards who then responded with tear gas,” said a relief worker, who asked not to be named.

    The camp effectively is split into two: an official camp with eight huge tents and several smaller community ones that Doctors Without Borders erected, and then around the official camp a sprawling tent city spread across muddy fields and among trees and along the tracks of a railway line.

    0472: Sleeping on the tracks: refugees are pitching tent wherever they can. (J. Dettmer/VOA)
    0472: Sleeping on the tracks: refugees are pitching tent wherever they can. (J. Dettmer/VOA)

    Razor-wire fences

    In the distance the refugees can see the snow-capped mountains of Macedonia. The Macedonian razor-wire fences glint in the morning sunshine.

    FILE - Refugees and migrants, who entered Macedonia from Greece illegally, walk between the two lines of the protective fence along the border line, near southern Macedonia's town of Gevgelija, Monday, Feb. 29, 2016.
    FILE - Refugees and migrants, who entered Macedonia from Greece illegally, walk between the two lines of the protective fence along the border line, near southern Macedonia's town of Gevgelija, Monday, Feb. 29, 2016.

    “There are over 10,000 people here and we are expecting many more,” Babar Baloch, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, told VOA.

    “The majority are Syrians and Iraqis and there are many women and children. We don’t expect there to be any change at the border and you can see the result here. The Macedonians are only letting a trickle of people through — 280 on Thursday. The situation is desperate. This is not a proper camp. No one anticipated a proper reception center would be needed here. The Greek authorities are doing their best but they are struggling and we need more resources and proper relief coordination.”

    Refugees ask reporters frequently if they have any news of whether the Macedonians will re-open the border, or what they will face in other Balkan countries that, along with Austria, have imposed border restrictions. “Why won’t they allow us to pass?” asked Ahlam, a dark-haired 23-year-old Kurd Aleppo. She said she and her husband, a computer science teacher, left Syria because, “It is just too hard to survive there now.”

    “There are dead bodies everywhere. That is why we decided to come. We don’t like going to another country but we just didn’t have another option. We want to go to Germany. We have cousins there,” she added. ”But why don’t the Europeans want us? We are educated. My family was successful. We owned three apartments and had land. We lost everything. But we can do well in Europe.”

    Hopeful about the future

    For all the anxiety about what the future may hold for them and their anger at being held up, most of the refugees show a remarkable patience and friendliness.

    Shermin, a 19-year-old Yezidi from the Iraqi town of Dohuk, remains ebullient and hopeful about the future. She and her sisters and mother left Dohuk because they felt highly vulnerable as Yezidis and worried about whether Islamic State militants would manage to revive their battlefield fortunes and arrive in Dohuk.

    “God willing, we will make it to Germany,” she said with a laugh and a smile.

    The refugees display a protectiveness towards each other — including strangers. A small girl who couldn't find her tent and burst into tears near a food queue immediately had people bustling around to assist her. Shortly after, an old, wrinkled Iraqi woman rose to embrace several journalists she saw enter the collective tent she was in — her way of thanking them for chronicling the story of the refugees at Idomeni.

    A local (L) offers migrants who are making their way to the Greek-Macedonian border something to eat, at the Greek village of Idomeni, Greece, March 5, 2016.
    A local (L) offers migrants who are making their way to the Greek-Macedonian border something to eat, at the Greek village of Idomeni, Greece, March 5, 2016.

    With another 20,000 war refugees from the Middle East and migrants mainly from Africa bottled up elsewhere in Greece, Idomeni will soon swell with even more desperate asylum-seekers. Greek authorities are increasing their estimate of how many will arrive on their shores this month from 70,000 to 150,000. Local aid agencies say that may be an under-estimate and expect 200,000 by the end of the month.

    • A tent bears an appeal for aid to migrants encamped in Idomeni, Greece, near the border with Macedonia, March 4, 2016.
    • Migrants trudge toward a makeshift refugee camp in the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, where they hope to get permission to move onto other points in Europe, March 4, 2016.
    • Migrant women cradle children near a fence in a makeshift encampment at Greece’s northern border town of Idomeni, March 4, 2016.
    • An empty wheelchair sits amid tents scattered outside the northern Greek border town of Idomeni, March 4, 2016. (J. Dettmer for VOA)
    • Police officers cluster at a fence in the northern Greek border town of Idomeni, where migrants await permission to pass into Macedonia.
    • A woman and child huddle in a tent in a makeshift encampment in Idomeni, Greece, waiting for permission to move onto other points in Europe, March 4, 2016.
    • A wheelchair-bound migrant woman waits in a makeshift refugee camp in the northern Greek border town of Idomeni, seeking passage to another European destination, March 4, 2016.
    • A café draws migrants to its warmth as well as electrical outlets for recharging cellphones, in the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, March 4, 2016. But for some, money for food is scarce. (J. Dettmer for VOA)
    • A man walks amid a makeshift encampment, with tents set up between train tracks in the northern Greek border town of Idomeni, March 4, 2016.

     

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
        Next 
    by: Josh
    March 13, 2016 3:34 AM
    Dont get me wrong, i think the vast majority of europeans will feel bad for your situation, but also feel like its too great of a risk to allow you in. Islam promotes violence and is a cancer in whatever country it is in. And whoever says that its a religion of peace i suggest you go read up on the history and read the koran. I personally dont like to think that a child has to suffer, no matter what his/her religion, but unfortunatly a difficult choice has to be made and i hope our governments do not let in any more refugees, and take into account that the risk factor of letting them in is simply too high to continue to do so.

    by: Cloudbuster
    March 07, 2016 3:47 AM
    " But to be honest these people have come to Europe for safety and it is the responsibility of European governments to meet their needs and not NGOs. "

    No, the responsibility of European governments is to its citizens. These are not citizens and they are not wanted. If NGOs want to spend their money on them, that's their choice, but they shouldn't even be in Europe.

    by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
    March 06, 2016 11:57 PM
    Europeans are inherently and genetically racists. Look how they divided,colonized and brutalized Africans. See how Europeans treated indigenous people in North America and Australia. Does anybody know what happened to six millions innocent civilian Jews during second WW?
    Well, Europe is no go zone for non white Christians!

    by: Dipak Rai from: NJ, USA
    March 06, 2016 11:17 AM
    because you screwed up ur country and now they don't want you to do the same to theirs....

    by: Simple Logic
    March 06, 2016 3:53 AM
    Why at all you want to come to Europe. Go to Saudi Arabia, Quatar, Bahrain or Kuwait. Europe after all is so cold and wet. Moreover the Arab Sheiks
    1.speak your own language
    2.intermarry with you
    3. belong to the same culture
    4. have same cuisine, religion and societal structure
    5. have trillions of petro-dollars stashed in their accounts which can be spent for charity

    Hence don't go to Europe. Instead ask these sheikhs to open their borders.

    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    March 06, 2016 12:37 AM
    The whole world can now see what a disaster the refugee policies of the UN are turning into. Overpopulation pouring across borders doesn't solve anything. It just creates humanitarian disasters. Nature's cruel solutions are all that remain.

    by: Gregg
    March 05, 2016 10:00 PM
    E.U. doesnt want them because they dont want to pay for the homes and food for the majority of men claiming to be refugees that have no respect for women and follow too closely their religion that says they should rape and humiliate any woman that isn't muslim. If they left their barbaric, violent, misogynistic religion behind or at least were tolerant of any other religion, or even made an attempt to adapt to the host countries culture without trying to force the hosts to change thier own ways to suit the refugees, or if they even appeared thankful they would be a lot more welcome. Also, they were pushed back from the fence they were shaking because if they weren't they would have torn it down shortly after they started shaking it testing for weak spots. We've all seen their quickness to engage in violence when they think they may have been insulted or slighted or simply didnt get what they want when they demanded it, we don't want that violence in our lives,free speech we love, they dont, and we will never bow to their misogyny or their view that raping and fondling women is ok. Until they learn to adapt, we dont want them

    by: Anonymous
    March 05, 2016 9:33 PM
    There are 65 countries in the so called COALITION. Where are they now? This refugees are the creation of their ME war policy.

    by: 1worldnow from: Earth
    March 05, 2016 9:25 PM
    My, my, my. Where to begin. Well, the caption of this goofy story says it all, really. I mean, Islam is coming your way, whether you like it or not. This is a perfect example of damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. Fight Islam and its terrorism that obviously follows, or do nothing and Islam will still try to invade you areas. Why, one may ask? Because in their Holy Scriptures of World Terror and Dominance....oooops.....I mean, Koran, is a religion design to cleanse the entire world of non-believers, Jews, and unclean Muslims. The reason they are also killing each other is because those who are not a part of the jihad of cleansing the world are considered unclean Muslims. With all that being said, they will assimilate, not for your benefit, nor for children, nor for your future. The first thing we need to do is stop using terms like Jihadists, Islamists, Radicals, and Terrorists and just simply call them Muslims. Stop giving them a label as if to separate them from what that religion truly practices!!!!!!!!!

    by: SsAn
    March 05, 2016 5:44 PM
    Europeans don't like the beliefs & culture that you are bringing in Europe. Leave your culture & adapt the culture of Europe.
    Comments page of 2
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