‘Europamagazin’ about Refugee Roads

Hello there! The report from the ARD* aired yesterday and we hope that you enjoyed watching it as much as we did. We are very happy that through this clip we can provide you with an insight into what happened in the days that the film crew was with us.

However, this piece only covers eight days of our journey along the Balkan Route, namely the part from the south of Serbia until the Greek border with FYROM. Refugee Roads, however, took 71 days in total, meaning that we have a lot more stories and experiences to share with you. These are currently stored on our hard drives. In order to reach our goal and to produce a full documentary out of this material, we need your help. Please check out our Crowdfunding campaign for more information!

In case you missed the report, watch it right here and now!


*The ARD is the Consortium of public broadcasters in Germany and the world’s largest public broadcaster network. Their regional members operate 54 radio stations and seven regional TV networks. A part of their programme is Das Erste, which serves as the first German national television channel. The segment about Refugee Roads was shot for the weekly broadcast of ‘Europamagazin’.

To be continued…

Our Campaign Teaser is out!

Support our crowdfunding campaign to finance the post production process here: https://cinecrowd.com/nl/refugee-roads

We want to bring our film material from our external hard drives right in front of your eyes. For the next 40 days we will run a crowdfunding campaign that will be essential to realizing the goals of Refugee Roads. We have put months of work into organizing the journey behind this project, and are now looking forward to moving on to post-production.


We have many exciting rewards awaiting your donation: from a signed DVD to premiere tickets and even our infamous tennis balls that made our two and a half months bike journey just a little bit easier.

Every so little donation will help us achieve something great together. You can find all the information about the campaign, teaser and project on our Crowdfunding page. Thank you so much.

To be continued…

Refugee Roads on German National Television

Yes! Remember how we told you that a film crew of the German broadcaster ARD visited us on the road? Well, today we are very excited to share with you the date on which you can watch their report live on German national TV:

Sunday, September 4 at 12:45pm

Das Erste (ARD) in ‘Europamagazin’

If you don’t receive this program, do not worry! We will provide an online link to the report as soon as it is uploaded to the ARD media library. With the link, we will deliver an English translation of what is being reported as well.

Many thanks to Judith Wenzel, Julia Mumelter and their amazing film teams for sharing the story of Refugee Roads.

To be continued…

The Bikes are Home – The Road Continues

Yes we know, it has been more quite than usual around here. We have simply been busy with other segments of Refugee Roads and thus were unable to update our blog. But first things first: THE TRIP IS OVER! Together with our bikes, our equipment, and a huge collection of stories we touched ground in Germany on Tuesday, August 16. After meeting so many interesting people while travelling across Europe by train and bike – over 3500 km in 71 days – the three-hour flight back home, which covered almost the same distance, made us wonder about how many valuable encounters we missed on all of our previous journeys on airplanes.

The last two weeks we have not only spent with our families and friends but we also organised many exciting things that are to come. First, we are currently working to provide you with a first visual impression in form of a teaser very soon. Second, we were invited to a studio tour in Brussels to get a sneak preview of the upcoming ARD report about Refugee Roads. Third, Florian went to the Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium in Garbsen, Germany to give a presentation about his experiences. The students that he visited are currently preparing to write their final research paper about the topic of migration. As you know, the main goal of Refugee Roads is to spread awareness about the daily reality of those still stuck on the Balkan Route and to multiply the lessons that we learned thus far. Therefore, we were very grateful to start doing so only three days after having returned home.

School Presentation JKG

And last but not least we have been preparing two blog posts about Frontex and about our time in Athens. They are already on the publishing agenda for September.

A sincere thank you for all the support that we received so far from all of you.

To be continued…

P.S. Yes, the countdown which was usually to be found on the top of every post is gone. Since our physical journey is over we stopped to count days. The work ahead will not be measurable in such but just as rewarding. So stay tuned!

Lesbos, Lesbos, Lesbos – you’ve heard of it?

Kostas and Timo
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[Day 69]

During the media hype around the refugee crisis back in 2015, the Greek Island of Lesbos became the symbol for the big influx of people coming to Europe. Due to its geographical location it was, and still is, the place where many refugees enter European territory for the first time. Many people that we talked to in various camps across the Balkans told us that here is where their personal journey within Europe towards a safer life started.
We have spent a full week on Lesbos to explore the current situation for refugees and to look for background stories to the countless images of boats on the Aegean Sea which dominated the press before the borders closed in March this year.

Cleaning Rabbit Island

Personal belongings that were left behind upon arrival, hundreds of rubber dinghies that were not durable enough to make their way back to Turkey together with countless life vests painted the beaches of Lesbos so black and orange that, according to locals, it was to be seen miles away from passing ships on the ocean. This made environmental pollution to a forefront issue and had an impact on the quality of many beautiful tourist spots of the island. Local initiatives are thus conducting daily beach clean ups to tackle this problem. We were able to volunteer for a day with one of these private movements. After four hours of work we loaded a whole boat with rubbish from the island Ai Yiorgi just out of the city of Petra, which our skipper called ‘Rabbit Island’ due to the hundreds of rabbits living in that Wildlife Reserve. The trash bags that we filled contained plastic bottles, glass containers, fishing lines, shoes and other debris. Our most bizarre findings were old shotgun and machine gun ammunition. Even a used smoke grenade made its way into our collection.

Hospitality Center Kara Tepe

The following day we visited the municipality-run hospitality center for migrants in Kara Tepe. Living conditions there were surprisingly humanized in comparison to what we have seen elsewhere. This is in our opinion largely due to the commander-in-charge there. He did talk to us only off-record but we witnessed how he treated every inhabitant under his watch with the same dignity and love that a father has for his own children:

“This is not a refugee camp. This is a village, where the refugees can experience the hospitality of the local people of Lesbos. In the end, we are the first encounter that these people have with Europe.”

Under his guidance numerous NGO’s were able to conduct very beneficial projects in the center. We saw community gardens where vegetables were riping, cooking possibilities and a ‘hygiene store’ run by the International Rescue Committee where people could pick and choose whatever donated products they needed to stay clean and healthy. For the evening we received a personal invitation to attend their own ‘Children Olympic Games’ in honor of the opening of Rio. In the presence of the mayor of Lesbos, kids were able to complete a sports parcour. Their smiles after they jumped, ran and climbed multiple obstacles spoke volumes. The only thing that we were a little startled by was the lenghty opening speech of a UNHCR representative. Due to the use of countless difficult phrases and notions her speech seemed more appropriate for a formal fundraiser dinner and not some 150 children who were largely occupied with cheerfully giving hugs and high-fives to the visitors and volunteers.

A Simple Fisherman and a Life-Saving Hero

Al Jazeera has been a fruitful source of information throughout our trip about current developments regarding migration and mobility in Europe. Coincidentally, one of their reports popped up on our Facebook about Kostas Pinteris, a local fisherman and Nobel Prize nominee (according to the Lesbos mayor’s office) from the north coast of Lesbos. We did not hesitate and rented a scooter to drive to his little hometown Skala and learn more about his story. Upon our arrival in the small village we met some fishermen who told us where to find Kostas. We met him in a restaurant nearby and after some initial small talk he called his friend and photographer Dimitris Michalakis to translate for us. Soon enough we were invited on his small blue fisher-boat, which is by now more than thirty years old and named after Kostas’ mother. When the numbers of arrivals reached a daily count of more than 5000, Kostas stopped fishing entirely and started rescuing migrants. He opened his fisher-boat, his house, and first and foremost his big heart to those in need. He revealed in our interview that this did not only stop him from receiving any income but also had a challenging impact on him emotionally as he was on more than one occasion facing a capsized inflatable all by himself, taking dozens of migrants on board and bringing them safely to shore. He told us that there were even days where the police called him in the middle of the night asking if he could undergo a search & rescue mission because all other ships were busy with pick-ups at other locations.

The Role of the Municipality

To better understand the situation on Lesbos we were invited to talk to the senior adviser of the mayor Marios Andriotis. He was kind and open and informed us about the statistics, the long history of migration on the island, the cooperation with national and international bodies and told us about the countless efforts of the municipality to manage the influx of refugees to the best of their abilities. There are even plans to build a statue in Mytilini to publicly commemorate the bravery of the locals and the hardships of the migrants.

Facing an unpredictable Future

All in all we were highly surprised of the resilience and ethics of the Lesbos community. They have been welcoming migrants since the end of the Greco-Turkish War in 1922. However, the lack of governmental and international support during the most recent massive influx has strained the patience of the island inhabitants as there is only so much that their small economy can handle. We did find out that Erdogan’s threats to cancel the EU-Turkey deal in the aftermath of the attempted coup caused more refugees to flee this uncertainty. Numbers of arrivals per week are now back in the hundreds. And with every new boat that arrives in Lesbos, about fifty stories are added to the mountain of uncertain futures which is currently building up against the closed Greek-Macedonian border. Over 55.000 people are currently stuck in Greece and their fate is as predictable as next week’s lottery results. Continuously placing human lives in a playing field of contradictory national solutions cannot be in the best interest of the European identity, if there is one that is. Opening borders and sustainably integrating across the continent or closing of borders and properly enforcing such – whichever solution Europe will opt for in the long term, our stay in Lesbos showed us once again that it is important to implement a common policy as soon as possible. Getting rid of the uncertainty that is currently dominating the minds of all people on the Balkan Route – volunteers, government workers, journalists, citizens and refugees alike – must be top priority.

Although this largely sums up our experience on Lesbos, we haven’t shared with you one special event that took place during our stay on the island. Hint: our next blog post will be dedicated to Frontex!

To be continued… 

Security issues in Greece’s refugee camps

[Day 61]

Long post ahead! See the subheadings for easy skimming over the text 🙂

It’s been a while since you have heard from us! The past few days we have explored how the influx of refugees has affected Europe’s front-line, namely Greece. Needless to say we learned a lot and will try to summarize for you at least some of the lessons we took away with us from our visits to camp sites, distribution points, hospitality centers and more.

1. Refugee Camp Nea Kavala

We mentioned in one of the posts before briefly that we went to Nea Kavala. So first of we want to give you a more extensive description of our experiences there. When we visited the camp it was about 38 degrees celsius outside. Providing shade amidst the heat is a serious ongoing problem in Nea Kavala. The tents are exposed to the sun and mostly have no fans or anything alike. The kids play outdoors without cover over their heads. We have also noticed that the tents give most inhabitants in the camp a feeling of not being able to make a home for themselves, which adds to their already existing mental hardships. Medical support is provided by the Red Cross. Food and water supply is controlled by the military who do not allow the inhabitants to cook for themselves. We did talk to a family who was complaining about the lack in diversity and quality of the nutrition for their children.

Unfortunately, a few days after our visit we heard that the security situation in the camp got out of hand. The situation for the Yazidis in Nea Kavala has been increasingly tense, which in turn resulted in their departure from the site on Wednesday, August 3. We have heard from our volunteer friend who works inside the camp that the Yazidi community of 407 people spent two hot days and a night under makeshift shelters on a field nearby and were finally moved on coaches on Thursday night to a new site nearby Serres, called Dimitra, which is an hour and a half’s drive away from Nea Kavala. Adding to the increasing security concerns in Nea Kavala are the events that took place last Tuesday, after a focus group ran by UNHCR discussing the next stage led to violent protest. Most NGOs came back on Thursday, however, according to a worker from the cultural center the place now feels very strange and deserted. Bottom line is that providing a sense of security for the majority of the people is an ongoing issue. In front of this background we just want to stress again the important work NGOs are providing inside refugee camps to mollify tensions, to integrate people back into daily activities and to provide mental support. Thank you especially to Eliza Winnert who showed us around the site and opened the doors of the cultural center in the camp, which was set up by We Are Here and the InterEuropean Human Aid Association.

2. Food Distribution in the parks of Thessaloniki

We also visited the Thessaloniki mosque where Brother Mohamed, the Imam there, together with other volunteers cooks hot meals on a daily basis which are then taken to the parks in Thessaloniki. In an interview the Imam told us about his passion to cook for homeless people, regardless of religion, ethnicity and nationality. That day we followed a group of wonderfully spirited Americans from Illuminate Nations distributing the meals while engaging the kids in the parks in sportive activities. Here, as so often during the last weeks, we experienced once more what it means to help others selflessly. All over the Balkan route we have met people like Brother Mohamed who came together in grass-root organisations and private initiatives to do the best they can with the means they have to ease the situation of refugees within their local communities.

3. Refugee Camp Softex in Thessaloniki

Timo’s experience:

When Idomeni was cleared of all refugees two months ago they were relocated to surrounding military camps. Florian and I decided to visit one of these camps in the Thessaloniki area, named Softex, which saw the number of arrivals increasing during this time as well. We went separately as I had the opportunity to join a doctor during his official trip there. The doctor never showed up to our meeting so I spontaneously joined the group of Americans again who had also planned on entering. The camp is centered around an old factory that is host to numerous tents, surrounded by more tents and a polluted creek from which some Afghans fished out a tractor tire when I crossed its wooden bridge. The unpleasant environment is further nurtured by the alarming security situation inside the camp. If Nea Kavala has already taken the podium in the contest for unsafe refugee camps in Greece, Softex certainly deserves a trophy. Just three days before our visit a girl died after an epileptic seizure with the ambulance arriving 90 minutes after they were called. Not to mention the stories I heard about numerous fights, robberies, and even stabbings.

Next to those conversations I also had the chance to talk to some people about their different backgrounds and origins in a mix of Arabic and English that I have come to call Arab-ish. I met with a family from Aleppo whose newborn will hopefully arrive in a safe place before being able to understand under which miserable conditions her mother gave life to her. I also met with a 16 year old boy who had been in Greece for half a year. He summed up his own version of life in Softex: “People not good. They come inside camp and take phones and money. They sell drugs. Police not good. And doctor very bad.” Indeed, an aid worker of the German Red Cross told me that the refugees’ lack of money was a worrying aspect since it made everyone grow dependent on living in camps such as Softex. This problem isn’t exactly solved by providing refugees with goods and allowing them to cook and sell food when the majority of revenues goes back to the military (spot the sarcasm).

While there are a number of other stories I would like to share with you, I will instead focus on that of Syrian father Mohammad. He was a scientist in Syria and left with his wife and baby to Europe. When asking where he wanted to go to he replied “wherever my wife and baby are safe, and where there is education”. With the one hand holding his baby and with the other knocking the dust out of hist makeshift tent he continued: “human rights, women’s rights, no any rights here”. As I kept on listening to Mohammad’s story about his baby’s asthma problems I was overcome with frustration. This father faces perilous obstacles in providing his family with the most basic needs. He arrived to Europe thinking he brought his family to a safe place, and is instead caught in a limbo state without any safety nets and no going back or forth. I started debating in my head whether it would be appropriate for me to tell him that things were going to be okay, different but okay. This debate promptly ended when I was reminded of the precarious safety situation inside the camp and a fight started to break out behind my back. I left the camp, Mohammad and his family stayed, and things are probably not going to be okay for a while.

To be continued…

The Mother Theresa’s of Macedonia

[Day 51]
We have arrived in Greece! Just yesterday we have crossed border #9, which was also our final one. It is rather interesting to see the geographic end of our trip approaching. We have only 70 km of biking left to reach Thessaloniki, from where on we will travel by ferry. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Last week was filled again with people, stories and experiences. In Skopje, by chance, we luckily encountered ‘Macedonia’s Lipstick Protester‘,  35 year-old Jasmina Golubovska. She is highly engaged in political activism being the former project coordinator for the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and current consultant for the Open Society Foundation of FYROM. She was kind enough to pass us the contacts of her good friends, Lence and Gabriela.
Lence Zdravnik focuses rather on the humanitarian aspect of the refugee crisis. Her house in Veles is only five metres away from the railroad tracks which form a ‘red thread’ for the refugee journey through Macedonia. Since the closing of the Greek-Macedonian border, the safest way to reach Serbia is to walk across the country. They have to avoid being caught by the authorities. Thus, the walking takes place mostly at night, where the darkness helps them to hide from the police. Lence hosted us for one night in her living room. Her balcony door has been open for over three years now and she as well as her husband or one of their two sons is always on watch – 24/7. As soon as one of them hears the steps on the gravel of the tracks, they rush down to their door to offer help to the travellers. Until last summer, the family’s jobs were the only source of finance for this aid. But due to countless reports about this modern Mother Theresa, as foreign media calls her, big organizations and the general public stepped in to help Lence, so that she can help the refugees. Therefore, her garage is stacked with everything from Food Packages and Medicine sponsored by the Macedonian Red Cross over to High Energy Cookies and Water paid for by the UNHCR. We also found shoes, clothes, bags and caps that were bought by locals and donated. The distribution of these items usually takes place anywhere between midnight and 5 am. During our stay there no one passed the house walking but during the four hours that Lence sat outside, she witnessed about thirty refugees hiding on a cargo train, which is the faster, but also more dangerous option.
We spent the following day in the camp in Gevgelija, just some hundred meters away from the Greek/Macedonian border. There we met Gabriela Andreevska who has worked tirelessly to support and protect refugees both inside and outside the camp. She started doing so with the distribution of foods, water and other necessary items, and is now increasingly raising awareness on behalf of the refugees through political activism. While showing us the camp she explained that while the camp is under decent conditions (containers with AC), its inhabitants are restricted from leaving it. Hearing this was a shock for the both of us! In the words of Avin, a girl from Aleppo insde the camp, she felt like being stuck in a prison for five months without having committed any crimes. Avin is the daughter of Syrian artist Shergo Mousa, whose art symbolizes the struggle of being a refugee inside Gevgelija. We looked at his collection and subsequently bought two drawings which we found particularly expressive. After a good two hours of exchanging opinions, stories and hopes, we left the camp heading south to the Greek border.
After half an hour on Greek soil we already ran into troubles with the Greek police. Long story short, the film crew of the ARD was escorted back to the local police station, while we were being yelled at by an angry farmer whose every so little problem seemed to be caused by refugees. It was our first encounter with someone who voiced his anger in such an open and vulgar way.
This briefly sums up our last 2-3 days (don’t mind the cycling in between, puh). And yes, the ARD film crew made it safe and sound out of the police station 🙂
Now heading to Nea Kavala where we will meet with the Intereuropean Human Aid Association (IHA).
To be continued…

Refugee Roads goes ARD!

[Day 48]

Firstly, we are happy to share with you that a film team of the German TV Broadcaster ARD has been following us along parts of our route in Serbia and Macedonia during the past few days. Together we went to the refugee camp in Presevo (Serbia) as well as Tabanovce (Macedonia), with the former being the most organized and well prepared camp site we have explored thus far. This was followed by an interview with Ljubinka Brasnarska from the UNHCR office in Skopje. The ARD is putting together a report about Refugee Roads for their TV format “Europamagazin”. The film team will meet us again around the Macedonian/Greek border and follow us for another three days during our visits to a number of refugee camps and other structures. Fascinating how a brief encounter with their film crew in Brussels back in mid-June has resulted in this development!

We will keep you posted about when/where you can watch the report.

Secondly, we are now about to leave Skopje heading further south in order to meet two humanitarians who have worked tirelessly for the protection and safety of refugees passing through Macedonia. We encourage you to have a read about Lence Zdravkin and watch the video about Gabriela Andreevska on Al Jazeera. We look forward to meeting with them soon!

To be continued…

A Capital of Transit

(Day 43)

Our stay in the ‘White City’ taught us that Belgrade as a city of transit it is one strategic stop along the Balkan Route for refugees fleeing to Western Europe.

First, we were able to meet Ivan Miskovic for coffee. Ivan is a spokesperson of the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration and gave us an overview of the current situation of refugees who are passing through Serbia. He highlighted the response of the Serbian government in response to the ongoing influx. People are still crossing into the country despite the supposedly closed Western Balkan Route, and in recent days they have witnessed an increase in daily arrivals including from Bulgaria, according to Ivan.

Last Monday we then visited Camp Krnjaca, one of the five official reception centers run by Serbian authorities. Once a refugee is registered on Serbian territory, he or she has 72 hours to reach one of these camps. There they then can stay as long as they need to recharge and to prepare for the rest of their journey while receiving food, clothes and shelter. Even free language classes in Serbian are offered for the few who wish to stay and seek official asylum. In Krnjaca, Timo and I were positively surprised to find stable barracks instead of tents, a proper kitchen cooking three meals a day, sufficient medical presence and 24/7 support by employees of the Commissariat. We felt that there was an organized structure at work and that the inhabitants of the camp were treated with human dignity.

The headquarters of Red Cross Serbia are located in the capital. We used the opportunity and spoke with Ljubomir Miladinovic, who is the Head of the Departement for International Relations. He mainly pointed out the balanced approach of the Red Cross society in Serbia when it comes to addressing migration. In every operation they try to provide support in an indiscriminate way. This means that they not only include local communities when providing aid, but also respect the effects on other groups of disadvantage.

Also located in the center of Belgrade is Refugee Aid Serbia, which was our next stop. There we met their volunteer coordinator Felix Thomson, who informed us about the nature of this local NGO. Afterwards, we were allowed to witness one of their distributions in the park across their office. Every day at 5 pm, warm food and hygiene products are passed out to the people who are sleeping in the park that night.  We were truly impressed by the courageous and hard work everyone from the RAS team was doing that day, and hope they will continue to succeed with their efforts to provide direct assistance in the future.

On Wednesday, we drove up to Kelebija and transformed your generous financial donations into hygiene and wash kits. You can read more about this visit and our follow-up meeting with the UNHCR in our last post.

Now, Timo and I are about to leave Serbia and cross into FYROM. Stay tuned!

To be continued…

Health and Wash for Kelebija’s Transit Zone

(Day 37)

We are extremely happy that so many of you decided to donate money so we could buy health and wash kits for the people living in the transit zone between the Hungarian and Serbian border. We received an amazing amount of 720 Euros in total over the last four days. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

To say the least, our day was hectic, inspiring, exhausting, motivating, and more. In the morning we spent close to 500 Euros on e.g. sunscreen, shampoo, body lotion, sanitizer, mosquito spray, soap, deodorant and some other goodies such as sugar, oil and coffee. Our first time buying sanitary pads and pampers by the way 😉 After driving to the border and (once again) convincing the military to allow us in, we arrived at the camp site. A younger girl named Rawan and her friends welcomed us and helped us carry the health and wash kits into the camp. We were trying to find Amina (the mother we met last time who gave birth to her baby in Idomeni), however she was in the hospital. Nevertheless, Rawan soon ran off to find Mona who we had also met last time. The distribution went well despite little time for coordination, and we are glad that everyone got a fair share of items. The shampoos were particularly trendy, while few people actually cared about tooth brushes/paste. Something to keep in mind for next time.

We attached a few photos to this post, and you will be able to see video footage in the documentary. Fortunately, we met up with someone from the UNHCR later that night as well, with whom we could share the footage to highlight the conditions in the camp.

We will use the money that we have leftover to buy more necessities the next time when we visit a camp. We were simply unable to carry more bags with us yesterday. Again, we were truly overwhelmed by your support. Thank you so much!

Now off to Presevo, we have 400km of cycling ahead of us. We’ll be in the mountainous southern part of Serbia with 35 degrees heat and scenic wild camping opportunities 🙂

To be continued…


Arrival in the Camp
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