Once again Aid Delivery Mission is on the ground dealing with the violence unleashed on the people in Idomeni camp.
As of noon Saturday, we became aware flyers from an unknown source were being circulated. They were calling for a protest and border crossing on Sunday morning. Global media has shown how people assembled, the fence was breached and people attempted to cross. As we have witnessed before, the Macedonian forces’ response was excessively brutal and indiscriminate. While ADM was serving hot food, independent volunteers had to assume the role of emergency medics, working alongside MSF and other volunteers to treat men, women, and children for tear gas, concussion grenade and rubber bullet injuries. We expected there could be violence but we were horrified as Macedonian forces fired teargas canisters directly into peoples living spaces and targeted our soup line. People are fleeing terror in their homelands, only to have it forced upon them again as a further result of EU policy. The camp was turned into a war-zone.
ADM has been the main source of food in the camps since January. We are unpaid independent volunteers cooking and serving thousands of hot meals every single day. Over the past months, working closely with MSF, we have built a strong relationship with the Idomeni community. When we became aware of this latest flyer provoking a border crossing and the rumours surrounding it, we perceived the high risk of violence. In preparation medics in our group briefed volunteers on how to treat teargassed and injured people.
We have seen the humanitarian nightmare that has been created as a result of the EU policies of border militarisation. We have seen the frustration and desperation of people grow as Fortress Europe locked its doors. We have felt the disastrous, deadly consequences of false hope and dangerous rumours being spread in the camps. Since the Macedonian border was closed in March, we firmly discourage border crossings like this one or the much publicised river crossing (14/3/16). We are aware of the police and military’s capacity for violence. We support people in their struggle for protection, however we do not support actions that will only culminate in disappointment and further excuses for repression.
Sunday morning at 10:00am five representatives of Idomeni camp attempted to have negotiations with the Macedonian police. They stated they wanted to cross the border peacefully and would wait for as long as necessary. The Police response was clear. Having orders from the EU to enforce the border, they replied all borders on the Balkan route, including Macedonia’s, would remain closed. They would not let them pass. All involved in this negotiation expressed there was no need for violence. Ten minutes after this, approximately a thousand people assembled at the border fence. There was a peaceful demonstration. Eventually the fence was breached in at least two points and some people crossed into no man’s land. The Macedonian forces’ response was to begin firing teargas and rubber bullets into the crowd. This sparked an escalation.
Some people at the fence reacted by covering the teargas canisters with blankets, others attempted to throw them back. The Macedonian forces sprayed a chemical mix from a high pressure water cannon, threw concussion grenades and shot people – many in the head – with large and small rubber bullets. This can be lethal or cause permanent injuries. The people who crossed earlier were severely beaten and pushed back. Others were badly burned by hot gas canisters.
A relatively small group of around a hundred people maintained a presence on the border and were heavily targeted. Over the course of the day, the soldiers and police firing the teargas chose to also aim behind this group. Teargas canisters rained down on the main road entering the camp hundreds of meters behind the border, rolled into tents and burned peoples eyes, throats and faces. Camp residents, volunteers and Greek police were all affected by this calculated attack on non-aggressors. Taking advantage as the wind shifted to blow through the camp, forces in Macedonia intensified their assault. MSF and volunteers were among the crowds treating the injured. We were shocked and outraged to find ourselves repeatedly flushing the eyes of terrified children, mothers, and elderly people in pain. We did our best while children as young as three screamed in uncomprehending agony and beat at their eyes. People were affected almost everywhere in the camp through out the day. Reports state fifteen children under the age of five were injured. In short it was an atrocity.
We absolutely condemn the actions of the Forces in Macedonia, however they are enforcing the law of the EU. Macedonian authorities were allowing people to continue to cross as recently as February. We see this attack as a direct result of Fortress Europe’s policies of exclusion, militarisation of borders and callous disregard for the lives of people fleeing war and seeking safety and protection. We see the violence of this attack as an expression of the violence of EU policies. Further, these self organised protests are an expression of people’s desperation and frustration; they are confronted by the reality of a failing and bottle-necked bureaucratic procedure while they are struggling to survive in abysmal conditions. To imply protests are organised by ‘western activists’ is profoundly racist and patronising. This idea insults both the intelligence and agency of people in the camps, as well as the integrity and dedication of the many volunteers attempting to bring some kind of humanity to an inhumane situation. Until freedom of movement is guaranteed for everybody and the borders are demilitarised, the EU continues to perpetuate human misery and create a situation where attacks like this can and most likely will continue to happen with loud condemnation and quiet sanction from the European heads of state.