As Balkan countries keep their borders open only to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, thousands of other asylum seekers remain stranded in Greece, weighing options for their next move: turn back, wait or use illegal means to go on.
“Do you know when the borders will open?” is the first question everyone asks when they see a journalist. While the answer is disappointing, people do not give up.
Ahmed, a young Moroccan man in his late twenties, says he has already tried using a smuggler five times to walk into Macedonia from the Greek border town of Idomeni.
“I paid €700 to cross Macedonia, and I will keep on trying until I succeed. I just came back from another attempt.”
Drinking coffee together, Ahmed and his friends say they were beaten up by the Macedonian police last night.
“They hit us with their batons and they shot my friend in his leg, he is now in the hospital. But we will try to cross tonight” says Mohammed, showing his own bruised leg.
Vassilis Tsartsanis, an independent filmmaker and activist in Idomeni for over a year, has long predicted the return of people smugglers. “This is the outcome of closed borders – the mafia comes back.”
With thousands more people arriving daily to Idomeni, illegal smugglers are one of only a few choices for those who cannot legally move further into Europe.
The Greek Alternate Minister of Migration, Yiannis Mouzalas, enumerated refugees’ legal choices on Greek TV this morning: “Migrants have three options: they can ask for asylum; they can willingly return to their countries; or they will be sent back after their one month permit expires.”