The Illegals

Paul Hill and Maria Falconer bring us the second blog in a three part series on their thoughts and experiences of volunteering in refugee camps in Greece. They have been moved by the 14000 refugees that are trapped at a temporary camp on the Greek/ Macedonian border.  

Paul Hill is a photographer and journalist with years of experience working for publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph magazine and the Birmingham Post and Mail, amongst others. Maria Falconer is a creative photographer who specialises in performance photography and whose work has been exhibited in the UK, the US, Ireland, East Asia and in March last year Maria Falconer was shortlisted for the PhotoVoice and theprintspace photography competition. Both Maria and Paul were moved by the refugee crisis and in response they fundraised enough money to live and volunteer in Greece for five weeks. Through a three part series we will be given a unique insight into their experiences as both photographers and volunteers in Greece.

 

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[gdlr_column size=”1/3″]Paul Hill[/gdlr_column]
[gdlr_column size=”2/3″]I saw my first Spring flowers of 2016 this week. They were vibrant yellow celandines cascading down the sides of a holloway near the E75 highway in a forested area on the Greek/Macedonian border, but my mind was on other things.[/gdlr_column]

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[gdlr_column size=”1/3″]Maria Falconer[/gdlr_column]
[gdlr_column size=”2/3″]There is an underground community living in the forest on the border between Macedonia and Greece.They are known as the illegals.[/gdlr_column]

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[gdlr_column size=”1/3″]Paul Hill[/gdlr_column]
[gdlr_column size=”2/3″]‘The Illegals’ who are not one of the favoured categories of refugees who are told to say: “War” when the border authorities ask them why they are on their doorstep. This has to be followed by: “Germany or Austria”. Three words that grease the bureaucratic cogs of the border police if you happen to be from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan (SIAs). But god help you, if you come from the Lebanon, Morocco, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, or Pakistan.

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[gdlr_column size=”1/3″]Maria Falconer[/gdlr_column]
[gdlr_column size=”2/3″]In Greece, after registration, all non-SIAs have just 30 days to leave the country. But for many of these refugees, returning to their homeland isn’t a viable option.[/gdlr_column]

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[gdlr_column size=”1/3″]Paul Hill[/gdlr_column]
[gdlr_column size=”2/3″]“I was a policeman,” said the father, who was trying to get his, and a friend’s family further into Europe than Greece. “I killed two terrorists who came into our village. Then other terrorists came after me, attacked our house, and tried to kill me. We had to get out.”[/gdlr_column]

[gdlr_column size=”1/3″]Maria Falconer[/gdlr_column]
[gdlr_column size=”2/3″]They, like many others on this journey – that begins and ends in different kinds of hell – had travelled across Iran and Turkey, over the Agean sea in a dinghy to the Greek Islands, caught a ferry to Athens, followed by a bus journey up to the Macedonian border. And all for what?  To end up living in a forest, where your shelter is an abandoned derelict building, and your survival depends on food delivered by strangers.[/gdlr_column]

[gdlr_column size=”1/3″]Paul Hill[/gdlr_column]
[gdlr_column size=”2/3″]If conditions were remotely tolerable in their own countries, the refugees would not be here.[/gdlr_column]

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[gdlr_column size=”1/3″]Maria Falconer[/gdlr_column]
[gdlr_column size=”2/3″]And I looked into the eyes of this father, this policeman from Pakistan. And I could see the hopelessness beginning to take root, the energy and the fight within him, fading fast.[/gdlr_column]

[gdlr_column size=”1/3″]Paul Hill[/gdlr_column]
[gdlr_column size=”2/3″]I have always told my photography students that the only thing worth doing in life is to try and realize your dreams. I know that if they cannot be realized as soon as they would like, there is always a ‘safety net’, which could be their parents, or by working as a waiter for Pizza Express, or serving beer at Wetherspoons.  There is no safety net in countries where your house has been bombed several times, and in nations run by dictators, or in towns taken over by venal religious zealots or corrupt politicians.

Sleeping in the open in a forest in freezing weather with probably no way forward, or back, is a tough, painful way to escape, but it is a route that must offer hope for the displaced, damaged and disadvantaged, or they would not be here.[/gdlr_column]

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