The Greek island of Lesbos is a pleasant haven for tourists to spend their summer holidays, while for thousands of African and Middle Eastern asylum seekers, the birthplace of the poetess Sappho is a nightmarish landing throughout their journey towards northern Europe.

Since the beginning of 2015 almost one million more refugees have landed on the island: rubber dinghies set off every day from the Turkish coast ferrying hundreds of people across the sea: an area of 20-30 kilometers that yields a turnover of millions of dollars per week in human trafficking: the rates are $1000 per person and $500 per child. Upon landing, some men follow the arrival of migrants with their eyes. They first recover fuel tanks and outboard motors and then destroy the rubber dinghies, stabbing them with knives. Postcards of the island show, on one side, tourists enjoying their sailing holidays or lying in the sun next to lifejackets abandoned on the shore and, on the other, asylum seekers staying in makeshift refugee camps with no drinking water, no food, no bathrooms and no proper place to sleep. They are forced to live in inhuman conditions for days on end, waiting to be identified by the Greek authorities in order to resume their journey amid the hidden dangers across the Balkans.

Thessaloniki is one of the transfer points for refugees who travel across Greece to apply for asylum in other European countries. They are forced to sleep on the streets or to stay in hostels, many of them at the emblematic Europe Hotel, before leaving.

Most of them have a six-month permit, after which they become “outlaws”. They are consequently forced to find a way out of the country, thus falling into the hands of traffickers. They cannot use public transport or taxis, so every day hundreds of people walk 50 kilometers to the Kilkis region to reach Evzoni, by following the main road or the railway tracks, so as not to get lost. Their route then goes on into the Republic of Macedonia, where many die after being hit by trains or in other circumstances: according to refugee accounts, many have disappeared at the hands of the mafia. At least 10 people a week end up in the Polykastro and Kilkis hospitals, on the Greek side, but many don’t go there for fear of the police. Asylum seekers already know what they are getting into and try to equip themselves with knives and wooden sticks for protection. According to the accounts of many Syrians rescued by Doctors Without Borders after the umpteenth attack by about 120 Afghans, Iranian and Pakistanis on the payroll of the local mafia, the Macedonian police on site did not intervene to rescue the migrants or stop the aggressors. This is the price immigrants have to pay for fleeing from wars. Without a humanitarian corridor, the immigration routes through the Balkans, as well as in the Mediterranean Sea, remain a breeding ground for organized crime and human trafficking.

Many scream for “Europe Europe!”, but the European dream has vanished for most of them. And the daily nightmare they find themselves trapped in has become a fact of life.

Following the constant deaths of immigrants killed while walking along the railway tracks on the way to Skopje and, after a number of attacks by organized crime and smugglers, a new law has been passed by the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Theoretically it should allow asylum seekers to receive a 72 hour transit visa, to cross the country and continue their journey to the Republic of Serbia, through a simple request to customs or at police stations. However, in reality, the Macedonian government has deployed policemen and soldiers at the border around the buffer zone between Idomeni and Gevgelija, to prevent refugees from legally entering the country. Many of them arrive along the railway tracks at the border, gunshot wounded and borne on the shoulders of their friends or others in wheelchairs, along with elderly people, children and pregnant women, who have been waiting for days for the border to open.  The only way left is the dark path through forests where desperate families have to face their umpteenth test of strength. Only then, once they have entered the country, asylum seekers can receive the keenly awaited transit visa. Then their odyssey starts again, from Gevgelija to Skopje, and again from Kumanovo and Lojane, where they hope to reach the Republic of Serbia while people look upon these groups of mankind as if they were aliens.

EUROPE EUROPE! (2015)