Refugees at Idomeni await an unlikely solution from EU summit
Disbelief at being left in terrible conditions mingles with determination to move to a better life
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"The weather is very cold," Salim said when I asked him how he was faring, He and three friends had been waiting at the border for two weeks, watching as the number of people being allowed across into Macedonia each day slowed to a trickle and then stopped. Just like his money.
The truth is that whatever the outcome of the summit, it's unlikely to go in the refugees' favour, at least not in terms of opening the border for those now backed up in Greece — 40,000 to 50,000 and counting. That's not what's on the table.
EU officials hope to reach a deal with Turkey that will see "irregular migrants," as they're being dubbed, returned to Turkey.
Ankara is demanding a lot in exchange: visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the European Union; an extra €3 billion to house the more than two million refugees it's already hosting and an accelerated discussion about eventual Turkish membership.
Oh yes, and for each person returned to Turkey, the European Union would resettle a Syrian refugee from inside Turkey.
He also took the EU to task over its muted response to Turkey's recent crackdowns on human rights and the media, suggesting that the EU was willing to turn a blind eye to abuses in the interests of securing a deal.
Critics say in its zeal to put a cork in the refugee bottle, the EU risks flouting international law including the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits collective deportations.
But divisions within the EU itself could still send the deal sliding off the table. Spain and France have raised humanitarian concerns. Hungary wants no more resettlements agreed to and Cyprus has raised its old grievances with Turkey, saying there will be no deal without proper recognition of Cyprus as a state.
The quicksand of their ordeal
And all the while the refugees waiting at Idomeni slide further and further into the quicksand of their ordeal, their faith in humanity sliding beneath the surface along with them.
Their disbelief at being first blocked and then left to fester in such terrible conditions looks out of just about every face you meet, along with their unwillingness to give up on their goal when they've sacrificed so much to make it here.
I met an 18-year-old Syrian woman named Rim who told me she could only cry about how cold and uncomfortable and afraid she feels when she's away from the tent she and five family members are sharing.
"This for father and mother, it would be like I killed them if I am crying in front of them," she said.
She is surrounded by misery. Forty per cent of those at Idomeni are children, according to the UNHCR. And in the early morning mists the only sounds you'll hear are the small, racked coughs of children.
It's not hard to understand why hundreds of refugees tried to find another way to cross the border earlier this week, forming a human chain to try and ford a river, families hoisting their kids above their heads. One harrowing picture shows two men in wheelchairs being pushed by friends.
Some were detained by the Macedonian police but the others were turned back to Idomeni.
In an interview in Athens on Friday the Greek deputy minister for public order, Nikolaos Toskas, said Athens will not remove the refugees from the border by force.
'We don't want to force them'
"It's not realistic to move 13,000 people from near the borders. Half of them are women and children. But we don't want to force them … we hope, we believe that they will move voluntarily [to official] camps where they can have better days, better living."
This past week agents from the European Union's Asylum Support Office were very visible at Piraeus, the main port near Athens, trying to encourage people to sign up to the EU's vaunted relocation program.
Last year the EU said it would resettle 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy, but only about 1,000 have actually been moved. There's little trust in that among refugees, but the closed border and the miserable conditions there are boosting the numbers of people signing up.
They too made a treacherous journey by sea to reach Greece in the hopes of travelling through the Balkans overland, paying smugglers €2,000 each for their passage.
"We [had] a deal to go by yacht and then when we was [sic] near from the beach we found a rubber boat," says Touk. "And you cannot say no because everybody has a weapon and force you to be inside the boat."
When they arrived in Athens the couple made their way north to Idomeni. But they were appalled by the living conditions. And with the border closed, they decided to trust that the European Union will get its relocation program up and running.
It is, say aid agencies, an important first step in beginning to bring some sense of order or control to the refugee crisis. And it is now showing some signs of life.
Another young Syrian camped out at Piraeus is hedging her bets, just like Salim up along the border.
Zeina Shalamy is rare: a young woman travelling on her own. She says she'll wait to see what the European Union decides — if anything — before making up her mind on her next move.
She hasn't, she says, lost hope. Although she can't tell you why.