Words : Véronique Saunier – Sorry for the inconvenience
“Sorry for the inconvenience”. Drivers crossing between Gevgelija in FYROM and Idomeni in Greece were greeted by this blue flashing message, in a rare apology from the Greek customs administration.
Ironically, while up to 10000 refugees have been stranded for months in the Idomeni camp in Greece due to the closing of the border between Greece and FYROM, hundreds of people have been crossing the border freely over the weekend because of a three day strike by Greek disgruntled customs staff.
On May 20, customs employees went on a 24-hour strike which was followed by another 48-hours one to protest against the government’s draft law for creating an Independent Authority for the General Secretariat of Public Revenues, which will involve Customs and may have some impact on their salaries and status.
In early May, a strike by the powerful Greek Seamen Federation (PNO) over pensions reform and a new taxation system voted in the Parliament had grounded ferries and all categories of ships at docks for four days.
Most of the travelers forced to cross the border on foot were Greek gamblers who every weekend pour into FYROM to play in the dozens of casinos that line the border; there were also shoppers who take advantage of the duty free shop. Cigarettes in Macedonia are reportedly half the price than in Greece. Many truck drivers were also stuck, sometimes for several hours.
This is a short wait compared to the three months during which the refugees who did not make it to the Balkans before the deadline of March 20, have been living, in squalid conditions, a mere five kilometres from the border.
They have no money to gamble even though they have time to play cards all days; while in the casino hotels food can be consumed 24 hours a day, refugees have to queue for hours in order to get the food that is served by the Greek NGO Praksis and by other food organizations; and no shops to buy from, except for the makeshift ones that the entrepreneur among them have opened, most of them selling… cigarettes smuggled from across the border.