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Emmanuel Brousse
Reportage | 25 mai

The baroque fauna of refugee camps
At the Idomeni camp, in Greece, there are not just migrants. One also runs into a crowd of characters craving for thrills.

 © Emmanuel Brousse
At the Idomeni camp, it is easy to spot those who don’t come from Iraq or Syria: they are all wearing a backpack. The one belonging to the AP photographer, filled with Gore-tex® and expensive lenses, the one belonging to the voluntary militant decorated with fringes and customized with Indian fabrics and key chains, the MSF doctor's, full of aspirin tablets and notebooks. These backpacks contain everything they need to spend a day in the camp without requiring anything. Then, at nightfall, their owners rejoin the taxis and rental cars that drive them back to their hotels, in Polykastro, Evzoni or Chalkidonia, the nearest Greek cities from the camp.
In these villages at the end of the world, the population sympathizes with the migrants’ fate but recognizes that the arrival of journalists, humanitarians and volunteers boosts the local economy. When hundreds of people come to town, you might as well take advantage of it. Cafés and bars show the availability of Wi-Fi and the Park Hotel’s owner admits that all of this is “good for business”. The wasteland behind his hotel became a campground, and volunteers wearing harem pants are laughing around a campfire.
 © Emmanuel Brousse
In the hall, walls are covered with the weekly calendars of volunteers’ activities. At any time of the day, sofas are filled with people from all over the world busy, restlessly scanning their cellphones. None of them can really afford to be here, but the strong coffees they drink one after the other and the fuel they burn every day to go to the camp represent a breath of fresh air for local shops.

Profiteers v volunteers

Others have found less innocent ways to turn the refugees’ presence into cash. In a petrol station, a sort of secondary camp where over 700 migrants are crammed, a volunteer regrets the behavior of the place’s owner, a greedy profiteer “who would insult refugees and organize a prostitution network with young Syrian girls”. The many cigarette curbsiders are evidently supplied through illegal means, and according to the rumors circulating on the camp, families would have been killed by Serbian smugglers.
However, these semi-mafia activities remain rare. The majority of those present are here to help. Doctors without borders, Doctors of the world, or the Spanish firemen NGO “Bomboneros en accion” are constantly on the field. The media exposure and the symbolic impact of the camp maintain a real organization. There is no longer an emergency atmosphere, the camp is provided with material, tents and medicine, and food distributions, care and assistance are given in a professional way.
 © Emmanuel Brousse
More modest NGOs concentrate their efforts on precise parts of the camp. Less professional, less equipped and often more militant, they do a big part of the field work while the “big ones” take care of the global organization.

An endless photographic material

Another familiar figure in the tent maze: the photographer. Affiliated to big agencies or freelance taking advantage of Greece’s proximity to be confronted with news, he wanders in the camp’s rows, Reflex over the shoulder. For him, Idomeni is both a paradise and a headache. A paradise because barbed wires, railways and children’s faces offer a quasi-infinite photographic material. And a headache, because the colossal media coverage of the migrants topic forbids him to fall in the pathos’ trap at the risk of seeing his shots drown in the ocean of images.

To avoid overloading media with migrants’ faces, the journalists present at Idomeni have actually precise medium-term projects. Those who were there for “hard news” when the Macedonian police was bombarding the crowd with teargas left long ago.

Spontaneous generosity

In this crowd, you run into unclassifiable people, like this retired Swiss teacher. With a beret on his head, old-school braces and a big white mustache, he gives children a few walnuts or plastic clogs. He has never been a humanitarian, but the situation in Idomeni convinced him to leave his comfort to give a little help.

A bit further, Marko, a Czech wearing fringes harem pants and a torn shirt, is playing with a kid who is laughing hysterically. He is wearing Tolkien’s Unique Ring around his neck and explains in an approximate English that he has been here a long time and that he is watching over the kids during the day when he is not too tired. At night, he goes back to the hotel for some hashish or MDMA-based party.
 © Emmanuel Brousse
Professionals are glancing with contempt at these cranks whose efficiency fails to come up to expectations. But for refugees, the future perspectives are so dark that feeling that you are not being abandoned is almost as important as receiving food. The old Swiss man and the Czech party-goer are thus welcomed with large smiles in every tent, even if it is to give walnuts and folded paper birds.

Philosophically, Marko smiles while watching two kids playing with a plastic can: “Sure I am not of great use here. But I am doing something, and for free. That is already something compared to the 500 million Europeans who do nothing for these people knocking on their door.”
 © Emmanuel Brousse
 © Emmanuel Brousse
Crédits photo : Emmanuel Brousse
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