"We can't do this anymore," screams an exasperated Iraqi woman walking and dragging a cart behind her loaded with parcels. She is followed by her children and an old woman, who is perhaps her mother. "We were in Idomeni for 20 days and the worst thing - apart from the rain, mud, and lack of food and medicines - was that we felt treated like animals. We are human beings and we want to live. " Behind her, dozens of other people are covered with waterproof bags and carrying heavy loads. They are advancing along the muddy lanes from Chamilo: a village not far from the informal camp of Idomeni, where 14,000 - including Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis - found temporary shelter for days, in the journey leading up to the Końska River: the natural border between Greece and Macedonia.
Last week Macedonia officially announced the closure of its borders. From that moment on, speculation began about the possible new routes the trapped migrants in Greece would take to reach their desired goal in the long march towards Europe. On Monday morning, more than a thousand refugees camped at Idomeni gathered their belongings and started walking. "Germany wants to welcome us, whereas the Balkans just want your money. If we are 1000 to march, the borders will have to open," read a flier that went around the camp for several days, and reported on Twitter by Time correspondent Simon Schuster. There were rumours circulating that there was a gap in the barbed wire at the border, placed by the Macedonian authorities in order to discourage migrants from crossing, but the recurring reply was always elusive, and always the same: "Tomorrow you will see..."
The fact is that more than 1000 refugees - even 2000 according to a photographer from Reuters - have arrived in the vicinity of Końska river, and, after insisting for a few minutes, were sent through without any problems by the cordon of Greek policemen who were down there waiting. "We cannot do anything to stop these people from at least trying to cross the border," said a police officer who requested anonymity. "We have provided them with equipped camps with food and all the necessary services, but they preferred to stay in the rain and in makeshift conditions. They do not want to stay in Greece: that much is clear."
As soon as the long line of officers was broken, people began to run towards the river bank. Removing shoes, and loading the children on their backs, they started to cross the river made rough and heavy by the rain of the previous days. There to help were many volunteers from all over Europe and beyond, who had set up a makeshift rope fixed to the trunks of two large trees on opposite banks of the river. Despite the terrified cries of the children, the smiles and general despair defused an otherwise traumatic situation. I wonder though if whilst crossing the river they were aware that only a few hours earlier, around 3am, three Afghan migrants, including a pregnant woman, had drowned in those very waters, and four others had been hospitalized in Gevgelaja - the Macedonian town on the border.
Despite the difficulties, the refugees, accompanied by volunteers and journalists, have continued towards the border with Macedonia and - as expected - have managed to overcome it. Thirty people, including activists and photo-journalists, have been arrested by the Macedonian authorities for illegal crossing, and will be released only after paying a fine of 250 euro each. Those who fled were intercepted in the Macedonian village of Milo, and loaded onto army trucks.
Still nothing is known about them and their destiny, which inevitably gives rise to the emergence of new hypotheses. But, even if they were threatening Macedonian policemen in order to get through and were possibly returned to Greece, it is questionable whether these hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing across the continent, and have been on the road for months - if not years - will really stop at an obstacle that, compared with what they have had to endure so far, seems so small.
Photo credits: Getty Images
Translated by Kimberley Evans