A young backpacker who put her trip around Eastern Europe on hold to help refugees has reported back on the latest situation on the Macedonian-Serbian border.
Ayren-Marie Kelly, 25, a locum pharmacist from Ballaugh, had been travelling in Croatia and the Balkans, with the aim of heading north into the Baltic States and then Russia but her plans all changed when she arrived in Belgrade in October.
In the Serbian capital she met a group of people at her hostel who invited her down to the refugee aid centre behind the main bus station.
Within a few days, she was on a minibus on her way to the border town of Preševo, which found itself on the frontline of the refugee crisis with some 5,000-10,000 refugees, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, passing through each day.
Since then however, the situation has stabilised.
Currently back home in Ballaugh, she said: ‘The original crossing to Croatia via Berkasovo was closed and now all refugees are going via Šid railway station into Croatia’s camp Slavonski Brod.
‘Dimitrovgrad on the Bulgarian-Serbian border sees fairly small numbers of refugees, as many are unwilling to make the journey through Bulgaria, due to police brutality – including beatings, theft of documents, imprisonment and so on. It truly is horrific!
‘Right now the situation across the Balkans has changed dramatically, as there is racial segregation happening at the Macedonian-Greek border crossing of Eidomeni, where only Syrian, Afghani and Iraqi refugees are being allowed to continue along the Balkan route. All other nationalities are being refused entry and classed as economic migrants or, as we see them, “the forgottens”.
‘There was a strong army presence and a lot of violence there recently, with some days 8,000 people stranded with no water, food or shelter. The camp was the scene of a mass eviction, with thousands of refused refugees being shipped off in a bus back to Athens.’
Ayren says there are serious problems with violence in the refugee centre in Athens where toilets are overflowing and health needs are being neglected.
She has appealed for donations to pay for food, water, clothing and blankets. Go to her fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/3rfc46ks