Interview: „Idomeni has taken on a sad role"

In discussion with humedica coordinator Romana Domin

by SRI,  2016/05/13

How much suffering can you endure? How much loss? When does fear start to eat the soul? When deprivation becomes existential? What to do when no more doors are going to open, when there is only lack of prospects? We live in times of international refugee crises. 2015 the experts of UNHCR, the UN High Commission of Refugees, stated the depressing number of 59.5 millions of people on the run, the highest number since the end of the Second World War.

Present hotspots like the Greek villages Lesbos or Idomeni, the Serbian Presevo, basically the complete Balkan route represent the many camps on earth, both official or unofficial, where expellees and refugees seek shelter, but then have to live under mostly miserable conditions.

Usually these disasters are not displayed in international news programmes, unlike the situation in the small Greek-Macedonian border village Idomeni, which has no more than 300 inhabitants. Journalists continue to report from this formerly idyllic spot, the appeals and loud pleas for more humanity, kindness and charity have not stopped yet. Since months now the 29 year-old Romana Domin acts as coordinator for humedica on the Balkan route, she also worked at Idomeni. We talked to her about her experiences.

Dear Romana, how did the situation of the refugees on the Balkan route evolve over the passed months?

You can definitely call it a drastic development, especially after the closing of the borders. Camps, which were set up for transient refugees were turned into permanent camps entailing all likely, in the case of Idomeni dramatic consequences. The hygienic conditions, the supply situation, the medic treatment for this inconceivably large number of people is extremely bad, even unbearable for an already long time.

I have already seen many camps along the route and Idomeni has taken on an especially sad role with regard to external circumstances. The psychological strain is the same at all locations on this route, the fear is tangible everywhere, but if we talk about Idomeni, we must actually speak of surviving in the filth. On the whole the refugee situation has certainly not eased over the last months.

Some weeks ago we heard about a marked worsening of the situation, how do you experience the present developments?

I am very worried, because in fact you see the hardship and impatience growing. This does not yet affect organisations or helpers like us, but manifests itself increasingly in confrontations with security guards or fellow refugees, because people here are penned up under extremely bad conditions. You can clearly tell that the people, who are suddenly forced to rest here after their long and exhausting flight, reflect their actually often hopeless situation and draw the consequences described above.

After the agreement between the European Union and Turkey had been reached, the outbound return of refugees from Greece to Turkey has started. How much frustration and disappointment did this move provoke among the refugees?

Disappointment and frustration are no adequate words here, instead you have to call it sheer despair, especially for people of Kurdish origin. Many of them tell us that the outbound return is their death sentence and they will rather die while trying to escape than perish in a Turkish camp. According to our information the situation in the camps on the Greek islands is even more dramatic.

The situation of women and children, who travel alone, is especially difficult.

Yes, definitely, and it is important to bring up the situation of women. They provide for their families, try to cook with what little they have, collect firewood, care for the children, try to hold up, to support the others. If they travel alone with their kids, these challenges are even bigger.

They have to fight hard for respect in the long queues at the food banks to get something to eat and they can not look after their kids at the same time. Often they get robbed. Without exaggeration you have to say that the situation of women on the run is very bad and often exceeds all limits. Also the children are suffering immensely, there is no care for their huge physical and psychological strain.

At the moment you are living a life, which confronts you time and again with tremendous suffering. How do you cope with the stresses of your job?

I consciously decided to help people and it is correct that in this line this work I often have to face much misery, also for longer periods of time. But you must not forget that the people, we are able to assist, give a lot back to relievers like us.

Whether in Presevo or Idomeni, the refugees are very friendly, they thank us in a very moving and warm way. Of course the seriousness, the sadness, the great misery, which mirrors in the faces, prevails for both the affected people and us. But in the midst of these miserable conditions, the already mentioned confrontations and the strain there is also warmth and humanity.

Since the beginning of the year the number of refugees arriving in Germany significantly deceased. What do you predict for the further development?

After the often dramatically fast developments of the last months I am not able to forecast anything. Great uncertainty prevails everywhere and nobody knows what will happen next, because there are so few official statements. We relievers try to help as best as we can, but we urgently need political solutions for the benefit of the people.

Dear Romana, thank you very much for talking to us. We wish you strength, God´s blessing and protection for your work.

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