Last summer in a small Greek town of Idomeni, I watched a long and slow trail of people shuffle across fields and irrigation ditches, attempting a crossing from northern Greece into Macedonia. At nightfall they treaded through the forests where bandits and smugglers lurked. Mothers carried children, fathers were loaded with plastic bags of food supplies and young men equipped with tents navigated the unfamiliar terrain with smart-phones. Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans along with others were on their way to Europe, escaping the violence of war back home. Along with their meager food supplies and scarce belongings, the heaviest burden they carried was the story they had escaped from. A Kurdish man from Syria pointed to his phone with a YouTube video of ISIS beheadings in his village.
In the early hours of the morning, men and women huddled to keep warm sleeping in the pastoral hay meadows and drifting mist like scattered carcasses in a battlefield. In the dusk hours, people fragmented into smaller groups to walk along the invisible border looking for an opening, a crossing point that was not guarded by the Macedonian police or controlled by the smugglers. As they spotted a clearing, dozens gathered in the bushes a few meters into the Macedonian territory waiting for darkness to fall. Men were armed with twigs and kitchen knives to fend off potential attacks of random smugglers who would extort payments and disrupt their crossing.
A mixed group of Syrians and Iraqis squatted in the bushes on top of a hill overlooking a meadow where they had spent an afternoon sleeping and waiting. In this adult game of hide and seek, they whispered and hushed each other as they attempted to plan the next move. Men smoked and strategized while listening to the inaudible sounds coming from the Macedonian border guards nearby. In a field across a small figure of a man crawled on all fours in high grass. By nightfall they made their move through the Macedonian forest to continue their dangerous journey into Western Europe.
I returned to Idomeni a year later to see a fence constructed and the European borders firmly sealed. More than twelve thousand people are currently stuck in a limbo, languishing in a wretched camp by the border. As I walked between the rows of tents I heard anxious murmurs. It seemed as though the tents were alive and talking. Families moved and shuffled inside, progressively unsettled by their fading hopes to cross. What once was a chance for a better life - the Crossing Point - has become a metaphor for human resilience at the face of hardship.