After a brief respite aboard a Greek passenger ship, Syrian refugee Mohamed has found himself stranded on a filthy, chaotic strip at the Macedonian border, his way to the relative security of northern Europe blocked by razor wire and riot police.
The 20-year-old geology student, like thousands of others stuck at the Greek frontier village of Idomeni, has made an arduous and often dangerous journey to escape the horrors of the Syrian civil war.
What he has found at Idomeni has brought him close to despair and now he simply wants to go anywhere in Europe that is safe. “We just want to survive,” he told Reuters.
After making his way through Turkey, Mohamed took a small boat over the narrow stretch of water to Kos, one of the Greek islands where thousands of migrants have arrived this summer from as far as Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.
Mohamed, who did not give his family name, covered the next stretch in the relative comfort of the ship which crossed the Aegean to Piraeus. After that came an overland journey to the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, and from there he walked to Idomeni – 70 km (45 miles) in the burning mid-summer heat.
Sanitation is dire around Idomeni and the weather has abruptly changed, with lashing rain now deepening the migrants’ misery. Thousands stormed the border on Saturday, crossing muddy fields and dodging the razor wire blocking a railway line that others had walked along as they headed north towards Hungary and Europe’s open-border Schengen zone.
The pressure further back along the refugee route shows no sign of easing, meaning more thousands are likely to arrive at the Macedonian border in the next few days and weeks.
On the Greek island of Lesbos a Reuters witness saw 10 inflatable dinghies – each carrying between 50 and 70 people, many of them children – arriving from Turkey on Saturday within the space of just 90 minutes.
Some had to scale cliffs once they had landed. Buses carrying stickers of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR were in the area to take them to the nearest town.
“I NEED MY SON”
In Idomeni, one Afghan couple were separated from their two children in the chaos. “I lost my children last night at about 6 p.m. when the crowd was pushing,” said Mohammed Yasin.
“My son is six years old and my daughter is one and a half,” he told a reporter at the razor wire. Minutes after he spoke, a man approached from the Macedonian side carrying a small child, Yasin’s daughter. His wife cried as she was handed the girl but the man repeated: “I need my son.”
Overwhelmed Macedonian authorities have been allowing only small groups over to the town of Gevgelija, laying on trains to take them north.
Ahmed, 32, stranded with his wife Rane and seven-month-old child, have waited four days at the border, hoping they can head to Germany where they have friends. “It’s miserable here. Our child is coughing and we don’t have any clothes,” he said.
Frustration spilled over into anger, not necessarily directed at the Macedonian police blocking their way.
“All the world is lying and the Arab countries are the number one liars,” said Shero, a 25-year-old Syrian who has been at Idomeni for two days.
“They are supposed to be our brothers but they turn their backs on us.”