Idomeni’s migrant children face police injury and trauma

A little girl being treated after inhaling tear gas in Idomeni on Sunday. Photo by Mohamed El Dahshan.
A little girl being treated after inhaling tear gas in Idomeni on Sunday. Photo by Mohamed El Dahshan.


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.

Idomeni wracked by tear gas and rubber bullets

Today, we were horrified to witness the events unfolding in Idomeni. From early this morning, the Macedonian police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water from water canons indiscriminately and relentlessly at the thousands living at the camp. There were once again rumours spreading in the camp that the border would open this morning at 9AM. When we got there, there were large crowds gathered. Families waited along the road with their bags packed, hopeful that today would signal the end of their long nightmare. Instead, the refugees were met with unbelievable force. We saw babies being rushed to hospital because they couldn't breathe, children screaming at every blast, desperate people with nothing to lose and more hopelessness than any person should ever have to know. Within the borders of Europe, people once again heard the sound of guns, blasts and helicopters that they ran away from.Read Lighthouse Relief and other organisations' witness reports from the field in the Independent: and in our twitter feed:

Posted by Lighthouse Relief on Sunday, April 10, 2016
Video posted on Facebook by Lighthouse Relief, an NGO working in Idomeni.

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”

Mohamed El Dahshan volunteers with a local NGO in Idomeni. He worked to help the injured people after Sunday’s clashes.

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.

Live, happening right now - - Macedonian border guards started tossing tear gas, at increasingly wide angles. #idomeni #Greece #refugees

Posted by Mohamed El Dahshan on Sunday, April 10, 2016
Video filmed by Mohamed El Dahshan.


"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.

A rubber bullet (left) and a tear gas canister (right) found by our Observer Mohamed El Dahshan after Sunday's clashes.