The muddy waters of Idomeni

The muddy waters of Idomeni

During the last few days we have been flooded with pictures showing the everyday ordeal of almost 15,000 refugees/migrants whose journey towards Europe came to a forced stop on the border of Greece and Macedonia (FYROM). 

Photographers and TV cameramen left the shores of the Aegean Sea and rushed to the open plains of Idomeni, a small village of just 150 inhabitants near the banks of the Axios River, which has now become the new theater of the European refugee drama. Idomeni has become the biggest open migrant camp in Europe.

This border village under its older name Sehovo during the Ottoman times was much more populous but carried a reputation for having staged fierce revolts against its ruler, Yusuf Muhlis Pasha, and then against the Bulgarians during the Balkan Wars. For that it suffered brutal reprisals which reduced the village population to almost extinction. Yet - like several villages in the border prefecture of Kilkis – it became a recipient of many Greek refugees from Bulgaria after the end of the Balkan Wars and after 1922 from Eastern Thrace, the Black Sea and the Caucasus region. 

We do not know where the families of octogenarian pensioners Mr. and Mrs. Christos and Eleni Manis came from. The only thing they tell us is that their parents came from somewhere along the Aegean shore of Turkey as refugees, almost 100 years ago. But thanks to a German reporter from ARD TV who discovered them in their single-story house in Idomeni, they managed to attract international attention when they decided to open their house to let refugees wash, eat and dry their clothes. 

“Some in the village did not see this in a good way, because they are scared. They should not be scared. People should open their houses. They should not be scared. We are refugees, too. We lived all the things that these people are going through, through our parents. Our parents came from ‘Mikra Asia,’” Mr. Manis said in tears, while in the background one could see refugees going in and out of his house, where the entrance door remained open. 

During this migration ordeal where Turkey and Greece meet again in a dramatic embrace that raises deep past traumas, the “Manis couple” and the “grandmothers of Lesbos” as well as many other anonymous elderly children of traumatized migrant families prove that no political or economic solution can erase memories such as the cold waters of the Aegean or the muddy plains of Idomeni. But at the same time, these stories of suffering and survival can also make us hope that the migrant children of Lesbos and Idomeni will know the value of human empathy.