Following the border closing and the subsequent border opening in the Republic of Macedonia in August, the fight-wing governemnt declared a state of emergency. A new camp was built in Gevgelija (southern Macedonia), far from the city so as to prevent any interaction beween the locals and refugees. Ever since, the reufgees can only be seen on 2 locations in Macedonia:
– refugee point A (camp in Gevgelija, southern Macedonia)
– refugee point B (camp in Tabanovce, northern Macedonia)
Of course these camps are not really camps but just transit tents and pitiful IKEA structures.There are zero accommodation facilities. There are stones, mud, a lot of barefoot children sleeping on the ground. And unspeakable shame. But also, a lot of strength and resistance, both by refugees and volunteers.
The Gevgelja camp has ever since been fenced and the freedom of movement of refugees has been restricted. This is a violation of the refugee legislation in Macedonia, whereby obtaining the registration documents allows you to freely travel in the country for 3 days. In practice, what is happening is that:
1) refugees cross the Greek-Macedonian border and reach the Gevgelija camp within 10 minutes
2) they are pushed onto trains (no freedom of choice, they must take the train, as the railway system is state-owned, bus companies are private. On rare occasions, in times of railway station technical issues, the refugees are allowed to take buses. Nota bene: Only the carefully selected buses, so that the government can get a percentage out of it).
Once they get on the refugee trains, the train doors are LOCKED so as to prevent the refugees from exiting the train anywhere else and pushed onto Serbia. These are special refugee trains. We, as activists have taken them, in solidarity with our refugee brothers and sisters and were unable to get off until the Serbian border.
Once the trains reach Tabanovce, the refugees find yet another desolate place, a far-flung village where volunteers tirelessly wait. Volunteers and civilians in the Gevgelija camp have been facing numerous restrictions since August, one needs to be a member of an NGO to be able to enter the camp and have a special CMC badge (crisis management centre), The camp is fenced and severely militarised – the army, the border police and the special police force of Macedonia are tirelessly patrolling to protect us from the myriads of “terrorists“ flocking into the country.On the other hand, the Tabanovce camp has been much more relaxed, until 2 weeks ago when it was fenced. However, volunteers are still free to move there in practice. It is a bit risky especialy for foreign volunteers, as they need a volunteering visa, but many are taking the risk and nothing has happened to them until now. There are serious plans to make Tabanovce as strictly controlled as the Gevgelija camp perhaps by the end of this week.
To sum up, yes it is fenced, volunteers do need special permits (an NGO membership, only special NGOs and a special badge from the crisis management centre). In theory. BUT in practice this is not implemented in Tabanoce for now. There are plans to implement it as soon as possible.