Catriona Robertson

journeys at home and abroad



Greek-Macedonian border

Home of Alexander the Great (but not so great if you’re from Persepolis), in dispute with Greece over the name and now the place for beautiful countryside, cheap dentistry (ads of smiley women) and petrol.

The train from Thessaloniki to Belgrade was replaced by a bus until we were over the border.  On the Greek side of the crossing is Idomeni, until recently a major bottleneck for refugees trying to get further north. The border was closed to people without the right documents a few months back and the camp was closed.


From the train we saw glimpses of UN refugee camps and shelters along the migrant trail. The style of tent and hut, and the blue logos, were all too familiar to my Greek companions.

I shared a couchette with Byzantine archaeologists from Thessaloniki going to a conference in Belgrade. With them was a consultant anaesthetist who has worked in London.  The Greek hospitals have had the same cuts as the other public services and he was worried at the workload and long hours of the remaining clinical staff.

Throughout history, people have flowed from one part of the world to another, said one of the academic party.  They stay where they like it, where they can flourish and where they’re accepted.  If not, they move on.  On the whole, she was against border controls.  The unlikelihood of many of the refugee families returning home to Syria, Iraq, Eritrea or Afghanistan was understood: once you’ve made the decision to leave home, she implied, a new chapter opens.  The story may be shifting from humanitarian aid to resettlement and inclusion.


Gevgelija station: curved eves and windows, yellow paint and friendly staff.

Before we left, a man came down the line tapping the wheels of the train with a long-handled hammer, reminding me of childhood journeys. The station building was dark ochre and flew the Macedonian flag. The low-rise block of flats next door had a hole in the roof. The guard put on his red cap to signal the train off to Skopje and Belgrade.


This entry was posted on 29 August 2016 by in Macedonia.
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