The sprawling Idomeni refugee camp has become the latest flashpoint of Europe’s refugee crisis. Following a domino effect of border closures down the Balkans, the seemingly unstoppable tide of humanity has been brought to an abrupt halt on Greece’s northern border with Macedonia.
Thousands of flimsy, multi-coloured tents in the fields are clustered together in a miserable shanty town as a growing number of refugees and migrants – predominantly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans – continue the exhausting odyssey from their homelands, via Turkey and the Greek islands. Hundreds more arrive each day, trudging through the endless fields of wheat, laden with rucksacks.
Idomeni - February 24, 2016 - 3500 refugees are stuck in the transit camp. The Greek-Macedonia border is closed. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
Aid agencies warn that the provision of food and sanitation around the small frontier community is stretched to breaking point. A humanitarian crisis now looms for the approximately 12,000 men, women and children marooned here amid the mud and squalor. Many are fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa and hope to reach Germany, which last year took in 1.1 million asylum seekers.
Weary and uncertain about their futures, the refugees endure numerous hardships: poor sanitation, persistent illness, long queues for food, cold temperatures, wet weather. More than half are women and children – a dramatically higher proportion than anything seen so far in the worsening crisis. Doctors are concerned about the rising numbers of babies, toddlers and older children suffering from fevers, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Idomeni - February 24, 2016 - 3500 refugees are stuck in the transit camp. The camp was build for 2000 persons. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
Refugees prefer to stay in Idomeni rather than in other camps further from the border as they believe it will earn them a better place in the queue waiting to head northwards. But there are grim reminders of the war zones that they have fled. Armoured vehicles of the Macedonian army are stationed behind razor-wire; soldiers and armed police stand guard, ready to react.
At the end of February, frustrations boiled over at this volatile bottleneck. Hundreds stormed the border, prompting Macedonian police to fire stun grenades and rounds of teargas into the crowd. The international aid organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), treated many for respiratory problems caused by the chemical clouds.
Idomeni - February 27, 2016 - Building a shelter with whatever is found. There are not enough tents for everyone. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
Soon after the incident, European leaders announced a possible deal to return thousands of refugees to Turkey. This complex proposal would see Europe resettle one Syrian refugee in the Continent for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands. While the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the “breakthrough” would deter refugees from making the perilous sea crossing to Greece, experts and diplomats across the Continent raised grave concerns over the plan’s moral and legal difficulties.
One thing remains clear: with war still raging in Iraq and Syria, a deeply divided Europe will get no quick fix to the biggest humanitarian crisis it has faced in decades.
Idomeni - February 26, 2016 - A family will spend the night sleeping outside in a field as 4000 refugees are stuck in the camp. © Pierre Crom / ANP
Idomeni - February 29, 2016 - A group of refugees break the fence in an attempt to cross the border to Macedonia. © Pierre Crom
Idomeni - March 2, 2016 - A family with a disabled child wait to be registrated. 10 000 refugees are stuck in the camp. © Pierre Crom / ANP