Meet Pervez. He is a soft-spoken 24-year-old English teacher with warm brown eyes from Lashkar Gah. He has lived through nothing but conflict in his country—conflict that is an outgrowth of foreign involvement in Afghani affairs over the past four decades. He has been traveling for about two months. Let’s see how he has spent his money: $2,000 to get from Afghanistan to Istanbul by car. $misc to support himself in Turkey for three weeks while he looked for a smuggler and waited to depart. $50 for a life jacket at a store in Turkey. $1,000 to get across the Aegean Sea to Lesvos in a boat with 70 people. $65 for a ferry ticket from Mytilini to Athens. $35 for a train ticket from Athens to Thessaloniki. $25 for a shared car from Thessaloniki to Idomeni. $misc to support himself in Greece while he waits to cross the border. So far he has been waiting 11 days. Teachers in Afghanistan make about $150/month; Pervez started his journey with about three years salary in his pocket. Does he have enough to get back to Afghanistan if the borders never open? While he sits on a cinderblock step in the Idomeni refugee camp, he wonders what will happen. He is determined to wait it out because he wants to live somewhere—anywhere—in Europe where he can work and learn and live. How long will he have to wait?
Meet Fadi. He is in his early thirties. He is from Hama, Syria, a primarily agricultural area of the country famous for growing pistachios. Fadi is well-educated and worked for several years in the Gulf as an administrator in a large corporation before returning to Syria to get married and start a family. He is well-educated, wears glasses and looks like your next-door neighbor (if your neighbor is professional, polite, well-spoken and dresses nicely). He fled Syria with his family because his baby and young children could not sleep due to the constant bombing all around them. I met Fadi and his family in Moria camp over a week ago. We met again in Idomeni yesterday where he was frustrated because the non-food-item distribution tent would only give him 10 diapers for his children. He had walked 1.5 miles from his tent where the family is staying to get diapers and he got 10. He was told that there are 10,000 people in need so his allocation was 10 diapers for his family. Like Pervez, Fadi has spent so much money, time and hope getting this far, he is determined to see the journey through. Unlike Pervez, Fadi is Syrian and so will still have preference if the borders only open to Syrians and not others. For now, he and his family wait and live in tents outside a gas station where the Greek owner was kind enough to tell him they could sleep inside if the rain gets bad. Lucky Fadi. (Soon after we spoke “someone” brought his family two bags of diapers, wipes and a large carton of warm blankets.)
Conditions in Idomeni were marginally better yesterday because it was sunny and the ground was drying out along with everyone’s laundry.
But, the borders are still slammed shut, riot police are stationed at the rail line crossing in case anyone gets a bright idea to try to climb the razor wire fence, and Macedonia is now planning to extend the 19 mile fence another 200 miles.
Greek citizens I spoke with express dismay at the current situation. As individuals they are warm and generous, putting families up in spare apartments, providing food to those who ask and carrying water to thirsty refugees who trudge along in the sun. As a country, possibly the hardest hit by the European economic crisis, Greece is at a real breaking point, and the rest of Europe is watching them grow with refugees and shrink with possibility. Greeks are horrified and embarrassed at what is happening at Idomeni just like we are and feel as helpless as we do when we can only help one diaper at a time.