News / Europe

    Syrian, Iraqi Refugees in Greece: We Won't Go Back

    Migrant women cradle children near a fence in a makeshift encampment at Greece’s northern border town of Idomeni, March 4, 2016. (J. Dettmer for VOA)
    Migrant women cradle children near a fence in a makeshift encampment at Greece’s northern border town of Idomeni, March 4, 2016. (J. Dettmer for VOA)

    Hungry people are angry people. In the makeshift tent camp just meters from Macedonia, here on the Greek side of the border with the rain sleeting down overnight Thursday, refugees expressed deep anger at the conditions they are enduring and fury with a razor-wire fence the Macedonians have erected to block their progress deeper into the promised land of Europe.

    United Nations officials say at least 10,000 refugees are here – mostly Syrians, with some Iraqis and North Africans among them – and their number is expected to increase by nearly 2,000 a day. Greek officials have warned that this month at least 70,000 refugees will be trapped in Greece, creating a humanitarian crisis for a cash-strapped country struggling with debilitating debt since the 2008 financial crash.

    The Syrians have come from all over their war-shattered country: from the ancient, half-razed city of Aleppo; Homs, once known as the capital of the Syrian revolution; Palmyra, another ancient town now in the hands of jihadists; Deir ez-Zor; and the Syrian capital, Damascus. They have survived barrel and cluster bombs dropped by a regime that has preferred to wreck a country rather than relinquish power.

    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. (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. (J. Dettmer for VOA)

    They have fled the clutches of Islamic State militants. They have endured five years of civil war, navigated minefields to brave illegal crossings into Turkey, dealt with unscrupulous human smugglers and survived perilous Aegean Sea passages in small, overcrowded boats that only the foolhardy or desperate would risk.

    And now their hoped-for European destinations – Germany, for most – are blocked by the small Balkan country of Macedonia and beyond by border restrictions in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia on the Balkans route to western Europe. Austria’s leaders now say they will not be the "distribution hub" for Germany, if refugees make it that far.

    Hungry, cold and ill

    "Where are we meant go? What are we meant do?” asked Abdul, a former olive farmer, whose wife is expecting a third child any day now. The couple's 2-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son sleeping fitfully as we talk in a thin tent bought for $16 by their father and erected on the platform of Idomeni's gloomy railway station.

    As Abdul vents, the rain intensifies. In the tents lining the platform, a chorus of coughing rises from young and old.

    Abdul’s parents are in Germany. On his smartphone, he shows me photographs of his family farm and its 1,000 hectares of olive trees on the outskirts of Aleppo. "There is no one there now," he says sadly.

    Like most of the Syrians VOA talked with here, into the early hours of Friday, Abdul has given up on Syria. "There is no future there," he remarks sadly, glancing at his young children.

    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. (J. Dettmer for VOA)
    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. (J. Dettmer for VOA)

    Aleece, sitting with her 6-year-old daughter at an adjacent tent, fled Palmyra several month ago.

    "Syria is beautiful – or was,” she says. She has ruled out returning there.

    She and her husband Ahmed, a barber, want to go to Germany with their three young children. She has a brother there. Other relatives are in Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State militants. "We have not talked to them for weeks," Aleece says.

    Both families have exhausted their cash. The adults have eaten nothing for two days, the kids very little. All are ill with coughs and flu, but in the morning they will crowd the razor-wire fence and face Macedonian troops armed with tear gas and rubber bullets as well as Slovene and Polish soldiers there to provide support. They will observe the water cannons, Humvees, armored personnel carriers and the dogs, and scream and plead to be allowed to continue their journey.

    Stopping the refugees

    There are no signs that Macedonia's government will have a change of heart. And to avoid more refugees traveling to northern Greece, authorities here are attempting to stop refugees who have arrived on Aegean islands from Turkey to board ferries to the Greek mainland. Travel agents on the islands of Lesbos and Leros say they have been instructed not to allow the asylum-seekers to buy tickets for public ferries.

    Ferry companies have been asked to reduce services, partly so that ferries can be used for emergency accommodations.

    The Greek authorities appear to be trying to slow the refugees from reaching the mainland, while they try desperately to persuade other European Union countries to open their borders and to cope with the challenge collectively. More than 130,000 refugees have arrived in Europe this year alone with 400 drowning at sea, according to the UN’s refugee agency.

    A wheelchair-bound migrant woman waits in the makeshift refugee camp in the Idomeni, Greece, near its border with Macedonia, March 4, 2016. (J. Dettmer for VOA)
    A wheelchair-bound migrant woman waits in the makeshift refugee camp in the Idomeni, Greece, near its border with Macedonia, March 4, 2016. (J. Dettmer for VOA)

    After meeting Thursday with European Council President Donald Tusk in Athens, Greece’s Prime Minister called for sanctions to be imposed on EU states that refuse to take in their share of the thousands of refugees arriving in his country. Alexis Tsipras also promised to provide dignified living conditions for refugees trapped in Greece.

    But that promise appeared to be falling far short in Idomeni, where many of the refugees have been for more than a week.

    In the sprawling makeshift camp around the railway station, refugees complained of hunger and cold. Outside tents, families tried to keep open-air fires going but they sputtered in the rain. The only warm place was a tea house a hundred meters or so from the railway station. It was crowded with refugees seeking shelter from the rain or electrical outlets to recharge their phones.

    Abdul said no doctors had visited their area of the encampment, and he worries about his wife.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Hassnain Najib
    March 18, 2016 6:45 PM
    Who ever you!what ever you believe in please help these innocent refugees.

    by: 1worldnow from: Earth
    March 05, 2016 9:47 PM
    This is a riot! In laughter, of course. With our own crisis having illegal immigrants flooding our nation, Europeans have been lambasting (mainly Republicans) America for not being sympathetic and just sit back a let it happen (bend over and take it). Even the new goofy pope had to chime in to tell US that we are wrong for complaining about all the illegals. His goofy butt even went to Mexico to weigh in on some anti-Americanisms, aimed at Trump-the-Grump, nonetheless. Insults Trump because Trump wants to build a wall, yet, the pope rides around in bullet-proof cages, impenetrable walls of the Vatican and has the hypocritical gall to tell us we are wrong!!!!! Like Marcus said, come on Europeans, show us how we are wrong and just open your arms and your economies and societies won't go to waste! Prove us wrong, come on! Hypocrisy rules the world today, regardless of what political system is in place. Communism, Democracy, Republicanism, Socialism, Fascism, Dictatorship......none of these matter anymore, only Hypocrisy is the law of the earth anymore, and that's why Hillary will win the election! Even with Boko Haram, which means Western education is sin, is using all Western tools and technology to further its cause! I feel we are at a brink with idealisms, and quite frankly, getting sick and damn tired of ideologies causing great harm to our most precious resource..........our children!

    by: Kris
    March 05, 2016 5:15 PM
    No bill, alice is right and your "proxy" war was started by a Syrian regime that killed protesters demanding justice for the kids they kidnapped, tortured and killed. While I agree NATO has no business being involved in regime change. But just like in Palestine the Arab countries use refugees as a tool to advance their own agendas they could care less about them.

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    March 05, 2016 10:33 AM
    From the EU's national anthem "Ode to Joy"

    "Thy magic power re-unites
    All that custom has divided,
    All men become brothers,
    Under the sway of thy gentle wings."

    Will the EU and its member governments and citizens allow thousands of their brothers, sisters, and their children die of exposure on EU soil? Even Mary and Joseph found shelter where Jesus was born.

    How will Europe solve this problem? I have no idea but I am watching. Europeans think they are the smartest and most humane people in the world endlessly pontificating to everyone else in a most condescending way. Okay Europe, here is your test. Let's see how well you do.
    In Response

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    March 06, 2016 2:11 PM
    I also watch RT, BBC, RFI, listen to Radio Havana, Guangdong Today, Radio Korea, Radio Japan, and a lot of others. I get information from all over the world, from every point of view. So what am I, liberal, conservative, far left, far right? NO! You can't put me in a box. I make up my mind on each issue depending on the facts and merits. No one has a monopoly on the truth or on lies.
    In Response

    by: 1worldnow from: Earth
    March 05, 2016 9:33 PM
    Once again, someone who speaks clear! You sound like a guy who can watch Fox News and CNN (polar opposites, for those unaware) to get the real story behind anything!

    by: Teeip from: Malaysia
    March 05, 2016 8:39 AM
    Perhaps Europe , US and Japan can have another round of Quantitative Easing with the money particularly created to help the refugees.
    You may google "creating money out of thin air"

    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    March 05, 2016 6:23 AM
    Syria has had a civil war raging for 5 years. They had one child, bore another and is pregnant in the middle of a war, problems of their own making. You just can't fix stupid.

    by: Anonymous
    March 04, 2016 5:26 PM
    Syrian, Iraqi Refugees in Greece: We Won't Go Back.

    Yes, you damned well will.

    by: None1234
    March 04, 2016 11:33 AM
    Not USA and NATO caused this! This is a stupid excuse!Syrians wanted to remove Assad's regime by their will!Syrians created and joined ISIS by their will too!all this in Syria and Iraq is because of the Islam ! You should be retard not know this!just NATO and USA ignored what Islam is!they thought they supported people who suffered from Assad
    not people who fight for islam
    In Response

    by: Gianni from: italy
    March 04, 2016 2:36 PM
    none1234, do you Know that USA supported mujaheddins in Afganistan against the Russians? Do you know that mujaheddins is the first step to IS? Do you know what US John Dimitri Negroponte did in Iraq?

    by: Alice from: Canada
    March 04, 2016 8:57 AM
    What are the 50 Muslim countries, 20 of the Arab doing to help their Muslim Arab brothers and sisters who are Syrian and Iraqi refugees?! Why is it the gullible 'infidels' in Europe are expected to do absorb all these refugees? All these Arab refugees can and should be accommodated in Arab Muslim countries of which their are 20 including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, etc! Let them send ships and plains to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon and help their own kin.
    In Response

    by: Alice from: Canada
    March 04, 2016 9:37 PM
    meanbill: If anything the US and NATO was and is being led around by the nose by Turkey when it comes actions in Syria. Turkey has until recently been the open gateway for ISIL volunteers to enter Syria. Turkey has been buying oil from ISIL for cash. Turkey's president sees himself as destined to be the Middle East's Pasha thanks to the gullible Europeans and Americans. The Syrian refugee crisis where Muslims are being shipped in mass (including ISIL sleeper cells) to Europe is also part of Turkey's goal of forcing the EU to dance to Turkey's tune. The US and NATO have been acting as proxies for Turkey! This is definitely a case of the tail wagging the dog - although things may be changing a little.
    In Response

    by: American Eskimo from: San Jose, USA
    March 04, 2016 11:33 AM
    Meanbill is right on.
    The propaganda machine is trying to pin this refugee crisis on Russia.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    March 04, 2016 10:01 AM
    Hey Alice _ All those countries that you say aren't helping the millions of displaced homeless migrants, didn't wage the US and NATO proxy war against Syria that caused the refuge problem, did they? .. So why should all those countries have to help the victims of the US and NATO proxy war against Syria, when the US and NATO countries are the richest countries on earth, and since they are the only ones responsible for creating the problem, and should be help responsible for cleaning it up? .. Don't blame or expect others to help the victims that survived the US and NATO proxy war on Syria? .. be honest?

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