Greece: Thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers can see no way forward and no way back.

24 March 2016, 16:46 UTC | Greece
The rain and lack of adequate sanitation facilities make life unbearable and increase health risks for those stuck in Idomeni. “The place is full of germs and we even have snakes entering our tents,” a young Syrian man told us. “Our children are vomiting

The EU-Turkey deal has been called a ‘historic blow to rights’ and despite it coming into effect many refugees are still taking the dangerous journey across the sea to reach Greece, one of the many countries feeling the pressure from the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time. Many refugees have been stranded in places such as the Greek border crossing of Idomeni, where up to thirteen thousand people were stranded when an Amnesty International team visited.

Under immense pressure from the EU, neighbouring countries have sealed off their borders with Greece, adding to an increasingly tense situation.

Here are some of the scenes of desolation captured by Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe, and Giorgos Kosmopoulos, Director for Amnesty International Greece.

Refugees like this little boy from Syria can see no way forward and no way back after Macedonian authorities officially announced the complete closure of the border with Greece, leaving thousands in despair. Everybody kept asking us, “Is the border going to stay closed? What are we supposed to do?”

Heavy rainfall over the last few days has forced thousands of women, children and men to sleep on the cold, muddy soil, while the water filled their small tents and soaked their blankets.  

Mohammed, a 45-year-old pharmacist from Syria has been stranded with his 18-year-old son in Idomeni for over a week. “Look at me, look how I look and the surroundings. Do you know Victor Hugo, Les Misérables? This is what we have become. But I will wait here until the European leaders meet next week, and then decide what to do.”

But even the NGOs are stretched to their limits and the camp’s facilities, with only 180 toilets and showers, cannot cater for the thousands stranded here.

Twenty-three-year-old biology student Adel and his disabled brother left Syria after their father was killed four months ago and have since lost track of their mother and sister. Adel is trying to get his brother to Germany for spinal surgery. “European leaders must make it easier for us to pass and find safety. I can’t ask them to stop the war, because I know this is not going to happen. For now, my priority is to get my brother cured. Then I can think of myself.”

For many, Idomeni had been a transit point on the way to elsewhere in Europe, representing the hope of a better future following dangerous sea journeys from Turkey to Greece. Now it has become a dead end.

Ahmed and Aliye, a couple in their 70s from Aleppo, Syria were on their way to Germany

In Idomeni, people camp out wherever they can find space, and state support is strikingly absent. Services at the makeshift camp – including shelter, food, basic sanitation facilities and medical care – are being provided solely by NGOs and volunteers.

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