When he first arrived in Idomeni, near Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), he believed that he would soon be able to resume his journey to Northern Europe. A few weeks later he found himself sitting on a bus heading back to Athens.
“I am very confused. I am not sure what will happen to us,” 30-year-old Syrian Mohamad Tamher told Kathimerini.
That first bus to leave the camp for one of the formal reception centers opened its doors on Friday evening. Tamher was one of the first people at the refugee camp to be convinced that the Balkan route was closed for good. When he climbed aboard the bus, due to depart on Saturday morning, most of the seats were empty. At the same time outside, hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers were trying to tie down their tents in the fields as the wind picked up.
The outcome of the Brussels summit that night between the European Union and Turkish officials on the refugee crisis did not immediately dent the hopes of the majority of people living in the tent city at Idomeni, but by Friday morning it appeared that many realized that the border really wouldn’t be opening anytime soon. An added draw was that the bus offered shelter and some of the refugees who did not have a tent spent the night inside the vehicle.
The next morning the bus was full. But the driver was not aware of his final destination – he would find out it was Athens on the way. Inside, there were people from Syria and Afghanistan and a small number from African countries. They had paid 25 euros each for a trip to an unknown destination.
“After the tragic deal between Europe and Turkey, I lost all hope,” said Tamher, who had been hoping to settle in Germany and complete his graduate course in business administration.
He arrived on the island of Lesvos on February 25 and reached Idomeni two days later. Unlike the majority of migrants and refugees, Tamher did not stay at the camp but got himself a room at the Vergina Hotel in the nearby village of Evzoni. He paid for it with the last of his savings.
“When I arrived at Idomeni, I was No 209 on the list. I soon discovered it was of no use,” he said. Our conversation was interrupted by another Syrian man. “I want to go back to Syria, to Aleppo,” he said. “I do not mind. It may better than this place,” he said.
Mohamed Osman, a 21-year-old man from Pakistan, was thinking about his future. He knew that because of his nationality, it was extremely unlikely that he would be allowed into FYROM, so he had attempted to secretly cross the border during the night.
“I was caught by border guards. They broke my mobile phone and sent me back saying, ‘Better luck next time,’” he said. “Now I will return to Athens and find a job as a construction worker for six months to raise enough money to pay a smuggler to get me to Italy,” he said.