As Riman was sitting down in a crowded corner of the low-lighted container, large clothes on, you could not tell. She was 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 was 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 was sure of that.
Riman and her family were among the 7000 refugees that passed through Gevgelija in Macedonia that day in October 2015. Or among the millions that left their home countries and came to Europe in search of a new home. A safe home. With a bed to call their own again.
The beaches of Greek islands, the dirt roads cutting through the cornfields between Serbia and Croatia, the forests along the way, all bared evidence of the refugees’ passage. Old clothes and shoes, food and diapers were scattered around. Packed trains and buses later taking them further and further west were crossing Europe from border to border.
“We want go!” the voices of refugees sounded behind the gates of the newly created camp in Opatovac, Croatia, 10km away from the Serbian border. Some made it to their desired destinations, but many are still stuck somewhere on the way. Some got separated from their families, longing to the moment they will be reunited. When Balkan borders closed for refugees not coming from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, many others found themselves stuck in Greece. Then borders in Europe closed in March 2016 and most people said the refugee crisis is over. But refugees stranded in Serbia are still determined to continue on their way and the route is still very active. Only that leaves refugees even more vulnerable now as there is no system in place to protect them and they will only rely on smugglers. “Numbers are smaller, but the situation is worse for them”, said Tatjana Ristic, Save the Children in Serbia.
Mehdi, a young Iranian that got separated from his wife and two children, took a folded piece of paper out of his jacket pocket. He kept looking at it. It bore some text in Greek and a photo taken of him somewhere around Victoria Square in Athens. It was his fake Afghan document and probably the most expensive piece of paper he ever held. He had just bought it that afternoon for 100 Euro. Once more, he will have taken the evening bus from Victoria Square, armed with a fake piece of paper and the little hope he had left to hold his family close again soon.
My work covering the refugee crisis in the media: