‘It was like a horror movie’: Idomeni Refugee Camp, Greece

When Europe started closing its borders and refugees entering Greece became stranded, many of them congregated in Idomeni. The informal camp was the largest in Greece, with more than 10,000 people gathering at the Macedonian border hoping to be allowed to continue on their journey.

An unofficial camp, there was no government assistance for services in the camp, and refugees were dependent on themselves or non-profit organizations like ADRA who offered assistance in the camp.

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Serbian-Syrian translator Samir traveled to Greece shortly after Idomeni sprung up. He says that conditions had greatly improved in the camp, but that when he first arrived the situation was very grim.

“It was like a horror movie,” he said. “People were actually starving. There was no food being distributed in the camp. ADRA was one of the first NGOs there. We had a truck and when people saw us they ran after us. When we opened the door they pleaded with us, ‘Please give us something, we are hungry.’ There was a warehouse with all kinds of materials donated by individuals around Europe, so ADRA helped to distribute items to people who were in the most need.

“Another problem was the rain and the cold. I saw one man, shivering, wearing only short sleeves. I took off my jacket and gave it to him.”

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It is a very different scene when we visit Idomeni a month later. When we get out of the van, we are greeted with hugs and smiles by children. After greeting us, they return to a large group of children gathered around a CD player. A young woman leads the children through the actions of much-loved songs like ‘The wheels on the bus’ and ‘If you’re happy and you know it’, which blare from the speakers. It is the first organized activity I’d seen in the camps, and the children seem to be enjoying the diversion.

Tents have sprung up everywhere in Idomeni, including on the train tracks. Here we meet Faaria. She is traveling with her sister, their husbands and their children. She has three children – two boys and a girl. She is also pregnant, but doesn’t know how many months. There are doctors in the camp but she doesn’t have access to equipment like an ultrasound machine. The hospital will only treat people in an emergency situation. They admit mothers in labor, but if they are healthy enough they have to go back to the camp with their babies the following day. Her siste