Caring for Stranded Migrants in Greece

A group of around 150 Syrians set off to cross the Greek border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), with the hope of being able to apply for refugee status in countries such as Germany or Sweden. The Greek border with the FYROM is increasingly under the control of people-smugglers, and is becoming less safe each day, so migrants try to cross the border in large groups so they can defend themselves from any extortion. 6 June 2015.
Alessandro Penso
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During the last week, the numbers of migrants and refugees stranded in the shrubby forests around the village of Idomeni, on the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, increased tenfold. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing medical consultations, psychological support, and relief items, and is now planning to increase activities. Stronger border enforcement at Idomeni has led to more than 2,000 people trying to get to northern Europe being blocked. Most of the people MSF’s medical team have seen are fleeing war and violence in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Some are particularly vulnerable: elderly or disabled people; pregnant women; and children under five years old. Many are living in squalid conditions, staying outside in the bush or at the train station, without shelter, food, or access to hygiene facilities.

Here are the stories of some of the patients that MSF has been treating. All patient names have been changed.

A group of around 150 Syrians set off to cross the Greek border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), with the hope of being able to apply for refugee status in countries such as Germany or Sweden. The Greek border with the FYROM is increasingly under the control of people-smugglers, and is becoming less safe each day, so migrants try to cross the border in large groups so they can defend themselves from any extortion. 6 June 2015.
Alessandro Penso
Idomeni. Greece. MSF psychologist Aggela Boletsi and MSF translator Mohammed distribute relief items to a group of migrants.
Alessandro Penso
Ahmed (not real name) is from Mosul, Iraq, and decided to flee to Turkey when the security situation became increasingly tense in his home town. Unable to secure a good life for himself and his family in Turkey, he decided to try and get to Europe to seek asylum, but the journey turned out to be much harder than he had thought. “My initial idea was to pay a smuggler to go from the coastal town of Mersin on a ship to Italy. We all had to slide down some very steep slopes to a small boat that waited for us, which then brought us out to a bigger boat. But after that, we were soon surrounded by Turkish coastguards who told us to turn back. When the captain refused to do so, they started to fire rubber bullets at people onboard. Soon after, a Turkish army ship appeared and started to fire real bullets at the engine. The captain then gave up and the boat was escorted back to Istanbul, where I was held in custody. After this, I tried to enter Europe through the Turkish border with Bulgaria, but my group was stopped by Turkish police before we could reach the border. I then paid a smuggler to take me from Turkey to the Greek island of Chios, but the boat was stopped by Turkish coastguards twice and sent back to Turkey. On the third attempt, I found myself crammed together with fifty other people in a small rubber boat. At sea, the boat was nearly about to sink, but the Greek coastguard rescued us at the last minute and brought us to Chios. There, I spent five days, sleeping rough in the open, with hardly anything to eat, before finally getting the permission to leave the island for Athens. In Athens, I made five attempts to board planes to get to Germany, but was turned back at the security desk each time because I didn’t have the right documentation. I am now attempting to make the journey to Germany on foot through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria. I know that the rest of the trip will continue to be difficult. But there is no other hope for me than to eventually reach Germany and apply for asylum so that I can bring the rest of my family there.”
Alessandro Penso
Muhammed (not real name), 18 years old, fled from Idlib in Syria after he was wounded in a missile explosion. He says he is anxious about the journey that lies ahead of him: “The smuggler lied to us. He said: when you get to Greece, it’s going to be easy to get to the other countries in EU, you just take some ticket and leave and it will be easy. When I came here I realized that that’s not the case and that I have to walk, there’s no other way. I am very nervous about crossing border, because I have heard many stories of people getting beaten. But my main concern right now is that if something bad happens, my family won’t know what happened to me. I have been told that you have to cross Macedonia and once you get into Serbia everything will be alright. They give you papers and you can use it and you can go to Hungary. After that you get into Austria and you are going to be fine. I don’t regret the decision to leave Syria. If I was back there, either I would have to fight in the army or I would be dead by now. And I can’t go back to Turkey, if I go back there, there will be nothing for me.”
Alessandro Penso
Sarah, 20 years old, from Wakiso district in Uganda, is travelling with her sister Barbara, Barbara’s baby, and another friend from Uganda. Sarah is six months pregnant, and has already had to endure a long and dangerous journey. “Our father was killed in Uganda by a neighbouring tribe, in a land dispute. Some people helped us to get to Kenya because they knew our father and were thinking that the tribe were going to kill us too. Someone then directed us to go to Turkey and then to Greece. In Turkey we boarded a small inflatable boat with 45 people. After travelling a small distance, people realized that water was slowly entering the boat. We tried to call the coastguard but they were not coming. The water had already started to come inside the boat and we were all getting wet, even the babies. We thought life was over for us. No one knew what to do. Then we said our prayers and everyone was crying because the boat was sinking. One person had a heart attack. But suddenly we saw a big torch and we were rescued by the Greek people. It was like I saw God himself. After, they took us to the hospital. They also gave me some medicine and my sister’s baby some new clothes. They even gave us food. We then took the big boat to Athens , and then a train to Thessaloniki. From there it’s not easy to get transport to here, so we walked all the way. At the border, the police came and found us and arrested my sister and my friend. They let me go because I was pregnant. After a while, they released my sister and my friend. We are travelling with some Syrians. They are very nice to us, some speak broken English so we can understand. They don’t discriminate against us. They give us water and help us with the baby. We are very much afraid to cross the border into Macedonia because we hear they rape women there. But we don’t have a choice, we can’t go back to Africa now.”
Alessandro Penso
Sarah, 20 years old, from Wakiso district in Uganda, is travelling with her sister Barbara, Barbara’s baby, and another friend from Uganda. Sarah is six months pregnant, and has already had to endure a long and dangerous journey. “Our father was killed in Uganda by a neighbouring tribe, in a land dispute. Some people helped us to get to Kenya because they knew our father and were thinking that the tribe were going to kill us too. Someone then directed us to go to Turkey and then to Greece. In Turkey we boarded a small inflatable boat with 45 people. After travelling a small distance, people realized that water was slowly entering the boat. We tried to call the coastguard but they were not coming. The water had already started to come inside the boat and we were all getting wet, even the babies. We thought life was over for us. No one knew what to do. Then we said our prayers and everyone was crying because the boat was sinking. One person had a heart attack. But suddenly we saw a big torch and we were rescued by the Greek people. It was like I saw God himself. After, they took us to the hospital. They also gave me some medicine and my sister’s baby some new clothes. They even gave us food. We then took the big boat to Athens , and then a train to Thessaloniki. From there it’s not easy to get transport to here, so we walked all the way. At the border, the police came and found us and arrested my sister and my friend. They let me go because I was pregnant. After a while, they released my sister and my friend. We are travelling with some Syrians. They are very nice to us, some speak broken English so we can understand. They don’t discriminate against us. They give us water and help us with the baby. We are very much afraid to cross the border into Macedonia because we hear they rape women there. But we don’t have a choice, we can’t go back to Africa now.”
Evzonoi. Greece. MSF doctor Danielle and MSF translator Mohammed together with a group of Syrians in Evzonoi during the operations of one of MSF’s mobile clinics. Many of the migrants and refugees seen by the MSF teams are suffering wounds as a result of the long journey.
Alessandro Penso
Idomeni. Greece. Syrians sleep under a shelter at a petrol station, just a few kilometres from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Alessandro Penso
Idomeni. Greece. 24-year old Arash from Kabul, with his son, who is one year and three months, and his daughter who is four years old. ”I am here because I want to find a safe place for my children” he says.
Alessandro Penso