Talking to the Migrants Rioting at Macedonia's Border Fence

Protests broke out at the Greek-Macedonian border last weekend, after one migrant was electrocuted while attempting to climb onto a train wagon.

by Kostas Koukoumakas, Photos: Alexandros Avramidis
02 December 2015, 10:57am

This article originally appeared on VICE Greece

Since last Saturday's violent clashes between desperate migrants and police, the scene at the refugee camp outside Idomeni – the last Greek village before the border with Macedonia – has changed radically.

The tents of the migrants, who had been camped there while trying to enter Western Europe, have now been removed from the railway lines by border police. Barbed wire now blocks entry to the railway crossings and Macedonian soldiers have completed work on a three-metre high metal fence, erected along the border with Greece in an attempt to keep out any more migrants trying to get into Macedonia.

Protests began last Saturday, after one migrant was electrocuted when attempting to climb on a train wagon by accidentaly holding onto the electric wires. He was one of about 1,500 migrants from the Middle East and North and Central Africa stranded between Greece and Macedonia after countries on the Balkan migrant route started turning away "economic migrants", letting in only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans – or "war migrants" – after the Paris terror attacks.

Migrants stood in front of special security forces and the Macedonia Army guarding the passage, holding placards saying "Open the borders", and, "We are not terrorists". At least 10 Iranian demonstrators called a hunger strike, sewed their lips shut and sat down in front of lines of Macedonian riot police.

But protests finally peaked in Idomeni on Saturday morning with the completion of the fence, and the electrocution of the 32 year-old Moroccan man – who was taken to a Red Cross hospital with severe burns. Riots broke out, with frustrated migrants throwing stones at Macedonian police forces, demanding they open the border. The police responded with stun grenades and tear gas, pushing the crowd back into Greek territory, injuring 18 police officers and an unknown number of migrants.

But the question still remains about what to do with the thousands of migrants stuck in Idomeni. As "war refugees" from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan continue to arrive from the islands of the eastern Aegean, tensions are mounting. The weather is worsening and clashes between migrants of different nationalities – Morocans, Iranians, Pakistanis are still happening. Yet still, there seems to be no realistic plan for dealing with the problem.

We spoke to some of the refugees stranded at the Greek-Macedonian border:

Hamid Baba Ali, 18 Morocco

I was born in Casablanca, in western Morocco. I finished school there, but my parents died and I could not live alone. I have one sister, who is happily married – she stayed back with her husband. But I had no money and no work, so I decided to come to Europe for a better life. I arrived in Turkey and then went to Lesvos. I want to go to Munich, where I have friends and family, or to Utrecht. I want to study electromechanical engineering. But I have been trapped here at the Greece- Macedonia border for five days and do not know what should I do now.

Mohamed Biplob, 33, Bangladesh

I am from the capital, Dhaka. I am a member of the opposition party, the BNP, which denounced the 2014 elections. Two leading members of the party were killed recently. I had to leave the country, because the situation is very bad. I left behind my parents, my wife and two daughters. I travelled through Turkey and I arrived in Greece via Kos. I want to go to Italy, to Rome because my cousin lives there and will be able to help me. I've been stuck at the border for 10 days but no one is telling us what will happen.

Aladino Sfaxzer, 20, Tunisia

I have been trapped in Idomeni for 12 days now, in the buffer zone of the border. I've so far paid traffickers 2,500 euros to arrive at this point. I do not know where I will go or where I can live well. I used to work at a local radio station back home and because I wanted to express my opinion freely, I was arrested and beaten. Those of us who speak against the system receive the same treatment. There is no freedom there and I could not stay another moment. I can't predict what will happen to me now.

Amin Najafi, 26, Iran

I've been trapped at the border for 10 days now. It's hard here – it gets so cold when it rains and we have no dry clothes. We live in small tents that let the air in. In Tehran, I had work and I dreamed about the future. I worked as a welder in a factory and was about to progress my life. But then I lost my job, so I decided to follow a group of my friends to Europe. I want to go to Germany or Sweden. I don't have someone waiting for me there, I hear different things from people who have gone ahead of me, but for now the only thing that matters is to get myself away from here.

Faysal Hassan, 16, Somalia

I was born in Mogadishu and from the first day of my life until now, the civil war and the fighting has been ongoing. My parents had a little money and sent me to a private school, which was destroyed by terrorist groups operating in the area. I left the country together with my sisters – I am now the man of the family and I want to get to Germany to start our lives from scratch. I came from Turkey to Greece, I do not remember which island we arrived on with the boat. We have been trapped in Idomeni for 12 days we have no other hope apart from this.

More on VICE:

Portraits of the Iranian Demonstrators Who Sewed Their Mouths Shut At the Greek-Macedonian Border

Calling Bullshit On the Anti-Refugee Memes Flooding the Internet

Why David Cameron's Pledge to Take 20,000 Syrian Refugees Is Pathetic

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