I cannot take my eyes off of something that so ironically sums up the human tragedy playing out in these places. It’s lying on the ground, motionless, abandoned, covered in mud. It’s a stuffed bear, like all those that are held tightly at night and played with by our children, and provide them comfort when they are upset. It was torn from the arms of its young protector and is lying amid debris in the mud of these last metres of Greek territory before reaching the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
I am in Idomeni alongside a railroad track that usually transports passengers and freight between Thessaloniki and Skopje then Belgrade. But the trains have remained silent and immobile since rail traffic was shut down.
Yet, thousands of people cross over this silent railroad track from the other side of the Mediterranean to escape war or tyranny. To escape death and to attempt to offer a future to their children. Our muddy stuffed bear confirms what cannot be ignored: thousands of children, young adults, and pregnant women are cast onto the roads of exile. While groups of fifty people—call them migrants or refugees, it doesn’t really matter in today’s context—, one after another, cross the border and continue their exhausting and uncertain journey, children anxiously hold the hand of their mother, father or older brother. Some are sleeping in the arms or on the shoulders of an adult. They aren’t talking, they aren’t playing, they aren’t shouting like children of their age should be. No, they’re looking around with faces full of something that shouldn’t be seen there—or at least not yet¬—: fear and mistrust.
I can’t imagine what these eyes have seen since they left Iraq, Syria or Eritrea. I would like to talk to them, but what would I say? I can’t help but try to put myself in their shoes, to imagine what it would be like to have to leave everything behind to cross seas and travel roads in search of a new life. I feel bad for them and I admire their courage and their strength.
As for me, I am here to observe and report on what’s happening in the field and the evolution of what media are calling the “migrant crisis”. It’s something that needs to be done but it can seem so insignificant in light of the tragedy that is unfolding before my eyes.
Upon a signal by the Greek police, another group of 50 people start moving through the barbed wire that now marks the border. Pushed forward by his mother, a little boy drops a stuffed bear and it rolls to my feet. Neither he nor his mother saw it fall. I pick it up, catch up with the group and, without a word, hand the stuffed bear to the mother. She looks at me briefly in silence before going back to the group that is now crossing yet another border. A new victory.
Christophe Le Rigoleur (Thessaloniki)