Yesterday, following yet another rumour the borders would open, hundreds of families packed their bags and prepared to pass from Idomeni into FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) border of Northern Greece. Crowds gathered. Some people at the front went to the borders fence and asked the Macedonian police if the borders would open. They said not.
Volunteers had worked hard all morning to dispel the myth and to discourage families and children from staying in the area. It was predictable that some people who have escaped war, and who have been stuck in foetid subhuman conditions for months, would become distressed and angry when this awful lie was exposed. After all, with no functioning route to access their legal rights, or to any real place of safety, many people feel forgotten about, without hope, and describe themselves as slowly dying in the mud. In this situation, it was clear police intervention could happen.
What unfolded was intolerable, unfathomable and violent and the stories need to be told and shared. While the Greek police watched on, the FYROM forces, without warning, and with force, launched a sustained attack on the people in the camp on Idomeni. It was war like. Their intentions are unclear, as missiles seemed to be launched indiscriminately into the crowds and into the far ends of the camp, where many people, with a legal right to be in Greece, were assaulted and hurt in their tents.
Though there were some people gathered at the border, and though a few of them threw stones over the fence at the heavily protected forces, the fence hadn’t come down. The vast majority of people hurt were not posing any threat or displaying any intention to cross the border, many of them were sleeping or just passing time with their kids.
Round after round of noxious tear gas was launched – hitting babies, women,grandparents & children (up to 40% of the residents on camp) Many men were hurt too. The toxicity was incredible and the toxic fumes caused hundreds to need medical attention and thousands to suffer. The weapons were out of date – this didn’t seem to make them less effective.
It was an unrelenting attack. Eventually the Greeks allegedly shot a few assumed “warning shots” back at Macedonia causing a temporary pause in gassing, but the onslaught continued. FYROM aggressors were reported to have come onto Greek territory unhindered. They shot round after round of gas into the crowds, and also shot people (including refugees and volunteers) with the biggest rubber bullets many people have ever seen. (Do not be fooled by the term rubber bullet – these weapons are deadly, but dressed up in a thin layer of rubber for public relations purposes.)
This startling violence continued after the crowds had dispersed and continued to penetrate further into the camp, forcing help and helpers further and further away from the need, and ensuring just about everyone was in pain, coated in chemicals, and without the basic materials (like enough water, materials and medics) to deal with the attack. People were passing out long before they reached the medics. One guys throat was sliced by a cannister. Yet more came with broken legs, bruises and injuries, describing being physically assaulted by the FYROM forces. Hundreds were carried out from the field, passed out, streaming eyes, unable to breathe.
This gas is incredibly dangerous long term for babies, children, pregnant women and vulnerable people as well as excruciatingly painful.
Sadly, it’s not the first time many of the people have experienced violence from the authorities and so despite the fact the bigger NGOs almost entirely evacuated, refugees and smaller volunteer groups, as well as a few remaining doctors were able to offer some treatment for the worst affected.
We too were caught up in the gas. It was unreal to have screaming children and babies being carried out of the smoke in apocalyptic scenes, utterly incensing to put drops in their tiny little eyes and to gently wash their faces and bodies to try to rid them of the agony, instigated by heavily armoured adults. They screamed such painful screams. It was also devastating that when the gas caught us too we had to just move further and further away.
Thank you for supporting me to be there with all the other volunteers, refugees and groups. Sincerely – thank you
One image that will never leave me is the hundreds of children cowered under a tree hiding. They were visible for all to see. If you gas Idomeni – you gas kids. If you gas kids you are a force for all of us to fear.
I took a picture of the kids’ shadows from the distance, but sadly lost my phone in the rush from the gas. Another thing to add to the missing list alongside human rights, child protection and humanity.
If you want to help: please raise awareness of what is happening here. Write to your local and national media stations, ask them to report on Idomeni. Let the people know they aren’t forgotten and that many many good people do care.
If you are media: talk to us or any of the groups or refugees involved. Help us, we need to keep and build hope.
(PS Thanks to everyone working at Idomeni yesterday, thanks to everyone who continues to highlight that what is happening to refugees is not acceptable, and thank you Steve for your support. you are a wonder in sorting my phone without prompt)
NB There are so many things that happened yesterday – this is just what I witnessed from the edges. Trace