15 November 2016

A No Man's Land: Life in Greece's Largest Makeshift Refugee Camp

15 November 2016 - Written by Gemma Padley

In his series Platform Zero, Alfredo Chiarappa offers a glimpse into what life was like for refugees in Greece's now evacuated Idomeni camp, one of the worst on the European migrant trail.

© Alfredo Chiarappa, from the series Platform Zero

The Idomeni camp in Greece, now evacuated, stretched out for hundreds of yards along a railway track that crosses the border with Macedonia, and hundreds of yards either side of it, explains Italian photojournalist Alfredo Chiarappa. The majority of people who lived in this ‘no man’s land’ slept in small tents pitched on rough or muddy ground, he says, but the lucky ones had bunk beds in the larger marquee-style tents set up by the UN.

People “struggled to exist while attempting to organise small trading activities or services such as setting up a bar in the old train station or selling cigarettes and groceries,” says Chiarappa. All the people wanted was “a place to call home”, he adds, but they were fearful about their uncertain futures.

© Alfredo Chiarappa, from the series Platform Zero

In March 2016, Chiarappa visited the makeshift camp, at the time home to more than 12,000 people, and photographed what life was like for the inhabitants. He describes it as a place “where desperate people from the most hostile warzones on earth ended their journey towards Europe”. Around the time Chiarappa arrived, the Greek-Macedonia border was closed leaving many thousands of people stranded, unable to continue on to Northern Europe.

In May 2016, the Greek authorities began to evacuate the camp, “one of the worst refugee camps on the European migrant trail, which had increased in size following the decision of Macedonia to close its border,” says Chiarappa. “[Being there triggered] lots of different emotions for me, but most of the time I felt depressed,” he says. “I tried to have empathy for the people I met when making the work, and I felt happy when somebody told me he had finally reached his family.”

© Alfredo Chiarappa, from the series Platform Zero

For Chiarappa, whose work focuses on international affairs and humanitarian crises, it was important to photograph the people in the camp with respect and dignity. By combining landscape shots with powerful portraits and images of everyday life, Chiarappa was able to create sequences that flowed as if they were in a movie, he says. “The only thing I want is for Europeans to open their eyes and to start to understand how important it is to receive and help migrants.”


Alfredo Chiarappa is an Italian documentary photographer focusing on young generations in countries that have undergone strong political changes. Follow him on PHmuseum, Twitter, and Instagram.

Gemma Padley is a freelance writer and editor on photography, based in the UK. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


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