The vast makeshift Greek refugee camp Idomeni, which was cleared in just three days last week, has become a stark symbol of the European refugee crisis. But amid the despair, there was also solidarity with the refugees from a growing number of ordinary citizens.
Thousands of mostly young people travelled to the Greek-Macedonian border, taking with them clothes, medicine and food. Among all the people was a group of seven Swiss from the Italian-speaking canton, Ticino, who accompanied the refugees in the days leading up to the clearing of the site.
“The conditions of the camp in Idomeni were appalling. The refugees were sleeping in train carriages or tents that were either on the rails or in the adjacent meadow. All it took was a bit of rain before everything was flooded,” explained director and photographer Ricardo Torres. He was one of the group from Ticino who was in Greece before and after the clearing of the site.
The group’s aim was to help the refugees and to see the humanitarian crisis with their own eyes. They were led by Lisa Bosia, a parliamentarian from Ticino who has actively campaigned on behalf of refugees for a number of years.
They collected CHF20,000 ($20,150) in just two weeks. The money was used on site to buy firewood, food, water, clothes, medication and the living costs of small NGOs.
Although the 8,000 refugees living in the makeshift camp had known for a while that it would be cleared, they held out hope until the last moment that the situation would change, the border would open, and they could continue their journey north.
The Greek police took around 4,000 migrants from Idomeni and relocated them to state-run camps. It’s thought that the other half of the former Idomeni residents either fled or are hiding near the border until the dust settles.
The pictures taken by Ricardo Torres show the everyday life of the refugees in Idomeni and in two further camps near the border with Macedonia: Eko – where 2,500 refugees live, and Hara, with 1,500 refugees.
(Pictures: Ricardo Torres, text: Stefania Summermatter)
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