At the closed border between Greece and Macedonia, tensions between security forces and the thousands of migrants trapped on the Greek side are regularly boiling over into clashes. Unfortunately, the first victims of this violence are often the many children and young people amongst the migrants. Our Observer tells us that these minors are living in terrible conditions and many are struggling to deal with trauma.
Since authorities closed the Greek-Macedonian border in early March, about 11,000 migrants have been camping in Idomeni, a Greek village located just a few metres from Macedonia. On Sunday, several hundred people tried to force their way across the border, before being stopped by the Macedonian police. During the clash, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
French medical charity Doctors Without Borders said they provided medical aid to about 300 migrants after the clashes. Among the wounded were about 30 children between the ages of 5 and 15.
Most of them were suffering from respiratory complications after having inhaled tear gas. Three children received head wounds from rubber bullets.
"I met a teenager who didn’t even know his exact age because he hadn’t celebrated his birthday in so long”
Rumours had been spreading that the border was going to reopen on Sunday. Moreover, there were very few police on the Macedonian side, so some people took that as a sign that they would be allowed to pass. So entire families had packed up their belongings.
On Sunday morning, hundreds of people moved towards the border. Families with children kept towards the back of the group. The Macedonian police started firing tear gas at the migrants, and some of the migrants started throwing rocks back at police.
"The tear gas reached the tents where families live”
At first, the police were firing tear gas just over the border but then they started firing much farther back, around 300 metres, where tents housing families are located.
After the clashes, we treated many women and children for teargas inhalation. We also brought a 16-year-old boy to the hospital because he had a broken leg. The kid had managed to get over the border fence when the Macedonian police started beating him and eventually sent him back over the border. It’s a terrible situation because he is an unaccompanied minor and he doesn’t have any family here.
"The children and teenagers here need mental health support”
The physical injuries that I mentioned are bad, but perhaps worse are the mental health issues amongst the young people here. Most of the children and teenagers in Idomeni need mental health support. Many of them experienced war and trauma. Those from Aleppo, in Syria, for example, experienced the brutal siege. Many of them also see their parents stressed and suffering and that takes a toll on them as well.
Recently, I asked one young teenager his age. He said, “I’m 14… or 13”. “You don’t know how old you are? Don’t you know your birthday?” I asked. “I don’t know. I know I was born in 2003,” he said.
I asked him why he didn’t know his birthday. He said he didn’t remember the date because they hadn’t celebrated it for years.
Yesterday, I met a young Iraqi boy who must have been 7 or 8. He was feigning an injury to get attention. I also know a 15-year-old Syrian who has started cutting himself with a razor. He is very clearly seriously depressed.
You can also tell how distressed these children are when you look at their drawings. Many of them draw burning buildings.
"Young people don’t have anything to do in Idomeni"
One of the biggest problems is that there is nothing for children and young people to do here, except for a few activities led by local organisations.
For example, we’ve tried to hold lessons in one of the tents. We tried to organise classes in Arabic, English, math and drawing. But we don’t have any books and the kids are all different ages so it is hard to structure it like a real classroom. But, for the kids, at least it is a way to kill time.