by Slavica Gjorgieva, Photos by Snezana Dzorleva, Nikola Oprov, Stefan Rusev and Mite Velkov.
I am from Gevgelija. Where that is? Follow the latest news and you’ll find out.
Gevgelija is a city in the very south of Macedonia, nearby the Greek border. The town is well known for hot summery temperatures and also for it’s calmness and quietness. The citizens of Gevgelija are widely known for their generosity and kindness. The town is quiet small: we are 20.000 inhabitants living in an area of 485 km². If you live in a bigger city, Gevgelij is just like one of your many city distircts and neighborhoods. In these days Gevgelij is not calm anymore, nor quiet, maybe just like one of your neighborhoods… .
During the last months, we have witnessed thousands and thousands of destinies. Families, children, babies, young, educated, non-educated, middle-aged men, tired women … . Some of them have found their happiness around Gevgelija, I’ve heard of some mixed marriages, while others have continued to write their stories somewhere else … .
In general we sympathise with the refugees and we try to walk a mile in their shoes. We try to imagine: How it is to leave your home, your life, your dreams and to be forced to dive into the unknown, for good or for the worse. From day one, local people were sharing water, bread and other elementary goods with the people who crossed their daily routine. The local people are willing to help. Well, most of us are, but there are also those who try to benefit from this situation. But, there are just too many refugees and Gevgelija is too small and not well enough equipped to face this situation alone.
Every winter our local and national governments are caught by surprise by the snow in the middle of January. The same thing happened now – they were caught by surprise by the refugee waves in September this year – after one year, more or less, of shadow transit that they were denying to officially acknowledge until a tragedy happened – there were numerous accidents on the railway track – and they could not ignore it anymore. And what is even more alarming, they were surprised two months after the legal 72-hours of transit was allowed by them.
So, instead of put up a decent refugee camp near the town, the migrants were sent to spend their time during their short stay directly in the heart of Gevgelija. First, they occupied the public area near the railway and bus station. Then, they began to set their tents in public parks and sometimes on the streets. This became intimidating for the local citizens, because it was getting harder to move around the town. People had to “fight” for a train or bus ticket, although there was a train transport organised for refugees only. It was and still is impossible to get a taxi for a local drive.
The dissatisfaction culminated when the number of refugees increased and spread around Gevgelija and when they began to settle on private properties and in private building entrances, leaving garbage behind or often using them as public bathrooms. Luckily, so far, no bad incident happened – no fights, no serious robberies. But, when surrounded by so many unknown people, regardless of their background stories, I became scared and worried. And I know my friends were, too.
After strong social media reactions and continuous daily chit-chat on this topic, now refugees are not allowed to enter Gevgelija anymore. They spend their days and nights in the so-called “camp” between the Greek-Macedonian border and the town. Here they have to wait patiently for their documents and after that, they have to take a double-priced train or bus to Tabanovce to cross the Macedonian-Serbian border.
Why so-called-camp? Because a tent is a good part-time solution for the summer. Here comes the rainy September, almost looking straight into the eye of the windy souht-east winter, a tent reminds of a bad movie you would like to turn off!
The refugee camp is open for donations. They are coming in numerous forms from individuals and NGOs – water, food (that has to pass the adequate inspection), clothes, blankets, toys, cosmetics. Usually they are not enough. People who have visited the camp – you need a special permission to go inside – say it is very organised, with lot of activists from UNHCR, UNICEF, Red Cross and other organisations. They have doctors in the camp, and also, there are separate tents for families, for mothers and children and so on. It is well secured with civil and military police. It seems decent. Let’s just hope that it will be prepared for winter in time and that it has enough capacity for all the refugees.
All in all, the situation for refugees has been improved compared to previous months. It is good, but it can be much better. It will not pass by soon, so it must be taken seriously on global level. Obviously, we cannot stop the war in the Middle East. But we can do the next best thing and find a solution which will fit all the parties involved. Building walls ins’t one!
(Many thanks to my fellow-citizens who have allowed me to use their photo material to illustrate in this article.)
Slavica is a young activist from Gevgelija, Macedonia, with previous experience as a writer on society related topics. She is active in various NGOs, including one she founded herself. She was a participant in the Balkans, let’s get up! programme in 2011, when she and her Bosnian partner implemented the project “Don’t judge me” – a project about ethnic (in)tolerance and youth activism in both societies. Since then she supports BLGU as a mentor, always available to help new participants`s personal growth.