On the edges of Europe, in a small town 20KM from the FYROM border lies a gas station. This station, which two months ago was simply a place to refuel and get a coffee, is now ‘home’ to over 2000 people fleeing conflict. EKO has become a village all its own, complete with community spaces, hairdressers, bakeries, shops, a tea tent and takeaway food. The people living here have built communities together, and have extended their love and hospitality to include the large number of volunteers working to provide relief and support.
The complexity of life here is impossible to grasp. The large majority of the people living at this informal camp made the treacherous journey from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq to Europe when the borders surrounding Greece were still open. Almost two months ago, however, the last remaining border to the rest of Europe closed, leaving 54 000+ refugees stranded. Greece has been struggling immensely to respond effectively to this crisis, and as a result the refugees are forced to stay in shamefully inadequate conditions. Worse than this, however, is the lack of information about what the next step in the asylum process will be, and how long this will take. The psychological impact of this on people who have seen and experienced the worst of humanity, is not acknowledged nearly enough.
Despite these unimaginable hardships, the people staying at EKO are some of the kindest, most generous and inspiring people I have ever met. The politics and plethora of excuses that dominate conversations about the ‘refugee crisis’ fall away when you look into the eyes of not refugees, but people. The ‘crisis’ component lies in the fact that babies are being born in tents, that terminally ill people aren’t getting treatment, that parents cannot reassure their children that this will all be over soon. The ‘crisis’ lies in the lack of compassion. It lies in the fact that the world is allowing people to exist without hope.
This poem was written by Ahmed Yonso, one of many young people living at EKO. Ahmed is a 28 year old Literature student from Daraa, Syria. He spends every day working as a translator for the medical teams working at EKO and in the surrounding areas. Ahmed arrived at EKO 44 days ago. He fled Syria on the 7th of January 2016.
If you are in EKO station
You will see the real dehumanisation
You don’t have the right to have
to love, to get small inspiration
You are just a number
For another greedy nation
They will never see you as a human being
Just a creature they threaten with deportation
I wish that I was dead in Syria
Rather than be in this situation
I am not sure what you can call this treatment from the best civilisation
Despite this all
We will not break down
We are the strongest combination
To cross the mountains
The desert the borders
To make the sea our last destination
To be Syrian that means to suffer in every way
In your imagination