Before catching the world’s attention, Idomeni was a sleepy village on the Greek border with Macedonia, the last stop on the train before heading through former Yugoslav countries and onto western Europe.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees followed the train tracks past Idomeni northward in 2015, when the migrant crisis exploded. They came from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, trekking through Greece after dangerous rides on rickety smugglers’ boats from Turkey, most hoping to make it west and north to more prosperous European countries.
Idomeni is where they stopped when Europe decided to close its borders in March.
Gradually, helped by volunteers, the stranded refugees created a small town. There was a tiny school, a portable cinema, food stalls, barbers, a first aid station, a hotspot for wireless Internet. Refugees took over every inch of the train station and spread out into the surrounding fields, living in tents as the population swelled to 14,000.
A fortunate few hundred got places on decommissioned train cars — some had been used as sleeper carriages, others for freight. It’s where Majd, a 22-year-old fine arts student from Damascus, wrote poetry, where toddler Abdul took his first steps, where Maher and Midia spent their honeymoon.
Braving bad weather and sheer boredom, the wait for some good news seemed endless.
It never came.
On government orders, Idomeni was cleared out last week. The tents were packed up, the land bulldozed, and the migrants placed on convoys of buses escorted by police to army-built shelters elsewhere.
The railway line reopened after two months of being shut down, the train cars once used as shelters left abandoned.
Idomeni returned to being a dot on the map.
Here’s a photo essay from Idomeni by Associated Press photographer Petros Giannakouris.
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