Groundhog day in Gevgelija
As Riman was sitting down in a crowded corner of the low-lighted container, large clothes on, you could not tell. She is five months pregnant. Two weeks before, Riman and her husband left their home town of Homs in Syria because of the bombs.
In Turkey, they spent three nights in the woods, among trees, in the cold. The first time they tried to cross the sea to Greece, the boat filled with water, so they turned back. They tried again. And again. Their third attempt was successful.
The transit camp in Gevgelija is just another step on their way to Germany. But their journey is far from easy: “There are so many people and they can’t sleep. Really, they can’t sleep and the weather is so cold”, said Riman. “But any way it is better than war”. She is sure of that.
Riman and her family were among the 7000 refugees that passed through Gevgelija that day. Things have changed since the beginning of the refugee crisis a few months back. Things are a bit more organised and transit camps like the one in Gevgelija are nowadays at nearly every border on refugees’ passage to Europe.
With organisation comes also routine. “It’s like you’re stuck in the same day” said Lorenzo Leonelli, UNHCR Field Officer. Refugees come and go, the faces change as thousands of them pass through, but for people working in the transit camp for months it feels like Groundhog Day.
“New refugees come, but their needs are more or less the same in terms of information, medical care, registration, charging their phones”, added Leonelli. “It’s a pretty tough day though”.
Refugees come in groups now, around 50 of them. They are let go from a similar camp on the Greek side, they cross the border on foot, the well-known 59 km milestone, pass a vineyard and arrive outside the fences of the transit camp in Gevgelija. They wait until the group or groups before them are being registered by the Macedonian border police. They get inside the camp and have some rest for 15-20 minutes or several hours, depending on the train schedule and their hurry to move forward. They get treated in case they are in need of medical care, they get food and cloths or blankets and children get some time to play in the child friendly spaces. Then they take the next train out of here, towards Tobanovtse, at the border with Serbia. And then the next group comes. And the next. Day and night. Every day.
Routine is the same, numbers are pretty much the same, but still people are different. And the refugees’ stories are different. Workers in the transit camp get to hear many of them and get to be impressed by many instants. “I am moved by their generosity. One day, a refugee boy came and donated some cough syrup for the other children. Other times, when we distributed hygiene kits, refugees were giving back the things they did not need to be used by others”, Ana, a Red Cross paramedic, said. Adam from UNHCR remembers a different story, from when he was interviewing a single mother travelling with two children from Syria, a boy and a girl. “She was a very powerful person, always making sure her kids are still laughing. But at one moment she started to cry. Her boy just quit playing what he was playing with and came to seat by his mother’s side. He did not move until she stopped crying.”
Days might change though if the borders in the north are closed. A small country like Macedonia, and not only, should start getting prepared for the possibility that thousands of refugees will get stuck in Macedonia, regardless if those refugees want to stay there or not.
“Even if the the Macedonian Government thinks for the moment it will not happen, I think we should be ready for that. I watch the news, the borders are more closing than opening. It is not impossible that at some point the bottleneck will be so narrow that a huge amount of people will be stagnant, even if just to be processed”, says Dr. Bertrand Desmoulins, UNICEF.