Celeste Neelen, Refugee crisis

Idomeni, between despair and hope

On my way to Greece I decided to stop in Idomei to help for a couple of days.
In this mini cosmos everything imaginable human is present. Being on hold, trying to survive, despair, insanity, humiliation, racism, tension, fights on the one hand and altruism, unconditional support, connection, coöperation, acceptance, gratitude and love on the other hand.


Helping the banana-team in the morning, taking care that every child gets a banana a day and connecting to the people, I suddenly am touched by a young mother with her baby on her lap. The open, inquisitive gaze of her 8-month old girl. A world where borders don’t exist, an openness to everything coming at her. The love radiating between mother and child.

Moeder en kind-1

The mothers’ hope, her strong hope that the borders will be open soon, opening a door where she can build a future. Despite the facts and Europe’s policy. Paralyzed by the madness she finds herself in, a disbelief, an unimaginable insanity she for sure didn’t expect when leaving everything she loved and knew behind her in a war-torn country. A hope to wake up from this nightmare soon.


The camp is full with contradictions and contrasts. Many things I just can’t get my head around.
The contrast between the European policy of dead and denial and the absolutely amazing work done by volunteers in the most difficult of conditions. Independent volunteers and small teams work together, being a good example how organisations of the future could work. A combination of chaotic initiatives, taking responsibility, coöperation and coördination, where everybody does what needs to be done. Like this 24 year old boy and his team cooking 4000 meals a day and distributing the meals in chaotic circumstances.

Putting 50.000 people on hold in Greece and having a very limited, almost impossible procedure of asking asylumn. For the vast majority of refugees, the only official way to leave Greece and enter other European countries is to apply for the relocation programme by the European Union through the Greek Asylum Service. This relocation programme is only accessible via Skype for extremely limited timeslots, only 8 hours per week, not per day….??? Skype times are changing weekly, yet there is no official public page or info line to check up on these changes. Access to internet in the camps is very instable and not accessible for all… Is this a policy to discourage people or what else, bureaucratic ignorance..?

The lotterysystem that is called life… With my Dutch passport and car I’m able to cross all European borders with a smile and waving bye bye. Because one is born in the wrong country at the wrong time, you have no rights, no privileges, no access to basic human rights, like clean water, a proper house, a future.
People are dying and governments spend billions on border control, as Amnesty writes in his proposal about the refugee crisis.
the so longed freedom

Broken families

Scenes I only know from movies are everyday experiences in the camp. We meet a 9 year old girl stuck in the camp with her father where her mother was lucky enough to cross the border in time and is in Holland at the moment. Like Zeinab in this video made in February.
Zeinab’s hope expressed in the last sentences is very touching. A hope to a human life of learning and growth, to a life of meaning.

I know there are no easy solutions and there is not one answer. I just know that the present approach and deals are not acceptable. We need approaches that are a balance between compassion and wisdom, solutions that would be congruent with the human rights we are standing for and answers based on love instead of fear.
Is it in our hands to help turning hope into reality?

For more information about the refugee children see this fact sheet.ORC_Factsheet_Mar2016

Helping with the bananas
portrait child playing football
playing with the kids
child and fam.kidsmother and childDistribution safety checkpointWaiting


You Might Also Like