When I visited Idomeni, a town on the border between Greece and Macedonia, I arrived in the evening and immediately felt as if I had traveled to one of Dante's circles of hell. Thousands of people wandered around the camp, looking for things they needed to make it through the night, from tents to bars of soap.
My gaze immediately feel on the sheets rolled up alongside the fences. Inside them were people, families with mothers and young children, even newborns, who had been sleeping in the mud for days. The number of children was overwhelming. No one knows the exact numbers of children trapped in camps where thousands of people --mostly from Syria and Iraq-- have been living under unacceptable conditions ever since the number of trips across the Greek border has been drastically reduced.
Three days ago, this camp, which was built to hold up to 1,200 people, now has thousands of people. Most of them are families. They don't have access to any essential services. Their basic needs are neglected. They don't even have access to adequate information.
Thick, acrid smoke rises up in the air, poisoning both body and soul.
It's no surprise that chaos broke out over there, and that a group of migrants broke through the fences in an attempt to cross the border. No one can survive for too long in a place like that, where the most basic human rights are being violated. We are swiftly reminded of the saddest pages in human history from the past century.
Everything is arranged around the railway line, which divides the camp in two. Hundreds of small camping tents stretch out as far as the eye can see, each a home to between four and 10 people. When it gets freezing in the evening --even though temperatures in recent days have been a little less harsh-- the entire area is lit up by campfires built out of any accessible scraps, including discarded plastic. Thick, acrid smoke rises up in the air, poisoning both body and soul.
There's a clear lack of safety and security. But despite all this, one is struck by people's attempt to maintain a shred of dignity and order amid all the chaos. Dirty, threadbare clothing hangs on the fence; the refugees wore them on their trip, and they've now washed them in bathrooms set up in the camp.
It is a river of men, women and children walking along the edges of dark roads, risking being run over by passing cars.
Twenty-seven kilometers divide the camp in Idomeni from the train station where buses arrive from Athens, which is where hundreds of families wait for their chance to cross the border. They often pay the very last of their savings for a taxi, but most of them can't even afford one, so they simply walk the road on foot. It is a river of men, women and children walking along the edges of dark roads, risking being run over by passing cars. Among them, babies and disabled people.
Our workers distribute flashlights non-stop in an attempt to help them deal with the dark, and hand out raincoats and winter clothing for the children.
As the Save the Children staff members were attempting to respond to one of the thousands of pleas for help, a woman came over to them, accompanied by a 10 year-old boy in tears, desperate because he couldn't find his parents. In a place like Idomeni, it's easy to be lost, in every sense of the word.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.