In March and April of 2016, my documentation of the current refugee crisis brought me to the Idomeni Camp on the Greece-Macedonia border, one of the largest makeshift camps in Europe. For the previous few months I documented the journey of refugees through the Balkans from border towns in Northern Serbia to train stations in Sarajevo, to tent cities in Croatia, but I had yet to spend time with refugees who were no longer in active transit.
Hakim Anwar, 23, sat staring blankly ahead as he recalled being locked in the back of a moving truck with roughly 30 other people for over a day somewhere in Macedonia. Two people were discovered to have died, presumably from a combination of heat stroke and suffocation, when the doors were finally opened. Upon arrival, they were then arrested and brought to Gazi Baba, a detention center in Skopje where they were kept for 18 days incommunicado, sleeping on the floor with nothing but a small blanket, two toilets for the hundreds of other arrested refugees, and barely enough food to survive on.
After telling me his story, Hakim looked over and said ‘But if you want to hear a bad story, listen to this kid’ as he nodded toward a young man sitting next to him. Hicham, 17, went on to explain how his boat sank crossing the Aegean from Izmir and he was one of the only ones to survive; how he walked through Greece, through Macedonia, through Serbia, on his own under the cover of darkness; how he had been beaten by police, robbed by mafia and gone days without food or water.
Hakim was deported back to Greece and since then, back to his home in Morocco.
Hicham eventually made it to Germany, but after two months was arrested and brought back to Bekescaba Detention Camp for men in Hungary. I have not been able to reach him since he sent me a string of messages a month ago, begging for help.
When each story is more horrify- ing than the last, you really start to question the limits of humanity.