In the last blog instalment, the team and I were on a boat to Athens. Predictably, while on such a long journey, we fell asleep and still were by the time we docked in Pireas, the Greek capital's main port. We wanted to say goodbye to the people we had met during the nine-hour crossing, but the excitement everyone had felt when the boat left Lesbos was now replaced by people fighting their fatigue, trying to work out what the next step of their journey would be.
Above: leaving the boat after arriving in Pireas (Image: Dan Ciufo)
We loaded back into old Vinnie Vito and drove out into the bright morning light of Athens. Within minutes we were away from the port and struggling to work out the developing chaos of the capital's roads.
Vinnie - our beloved minivan - started limping and needed some TLC. Apparently we had been riding a little rough over unsuitable terrain on our travels and had popped the suspension spring. In fairness, we had put the poor guy through his paces, so we pulled over and used the time during repairs to get sleep and take care of the footage.
It wasn't long before we were back on the road. We gathered our research and headed out to try and find the refugees but the various locations that had been associated with the crisis - like city squares and some new camps - seemed strangely empty. We couldn't work it out; we'd not long seen 2,000 people arrive on one boat from just one of the islands!
What we soon realised is that if one route becomes complicated for whatever reason, a new solution will open up and that will be the new trail. The Greek Government, whilst they are trying to provide better facilities in the camps they are building (to discourage masses of refugees from staying in the city centre, as had been the case all summer), there seemed to be a desire to move people on as quickly as possible, up to the north of Greece and the borders of Macedonia.
We saw this when we came across buses leaving en masse at night from the city centre, charging refugees money to take them north. We filmed and interviewed numerous people here until we were accosted by both taxi drivers, bus drivers and people smugglers who appeared to be in cahoots like some sort of strange travel agency. One smuggler went to grab our camera from us and then mimed the action of running a knife across his throat. We quickly moved back far enough to ensure a mime didn't turn into anything else!
Throughout the night we drove and only stopped for breakfast - at yet another petrol station - before we arrived at Idomeni, a tiny town on the Greece-Macedonia border. Here we found the usual enclave of white tents, volunteers and NGO-types buzzing around and the police sitting about in large numbers with a certain air of boredom. What was surprising at first was that the numbers of refugees waiting to cross the border seemed a lot less than we expected.
We were reliably told by one of the NGO spokespeople that there were not as many refugees because this place was not meant to house them. They only stayed here if there was trouble further up the route. We played games with some of the kids there who acted as our guides on a tour of the camp and they took us to talk to some of the other refugees.
Behind the white refugee tents, along a railway track, we were taken to what we had been informed was 'the border'. A long roll of razor wire with plastic debris stuck in it, dancing to the wind. This would contain no man, or woman, or child for that matter and clearly it was not meant to. This was process. Everyone acting in orderly fashion. Queuing, waiting to
cross the border... That was, until I went through!
Above: refugees walking across the border between Greece and Macedonia (Image: James Alexander)