The barbers of the Idomeni refugee camp

The barbers of the Idomeni refugee camp


On the Greek-Macedonian border haircuts take place under the open sky as thousands of refugees wait for the borders to open

Getting a haircut at the makeshift barber shop in the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border (MEE/Ahmed Deeb)
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Last update: 
Thursday 12 May 2016 10:17 UTC
Locks of hair fall to the ground and the latest hairstyles emerge as customers sit on chairs under the open sky at the makeshift Idomeni refugee campThe lineup of barbers at work are one of the more unusual sites at the camp on the Greek-Macedonian border.

Refugee barbers cut their client's hair at an improvised barber shop at the Idomeni refugee camp (MEE/Ahmed Deeb)
Thousands of refugees and migrants who made it across the Aegean - fleeing wars and conflict in Iraq and Syria - are running out of options as the closure of the Greek border with Macedonia (9 March) enters its third month. Survival and economic viability is getting harder for them.

A customer checks to see his barber is doing a good job on his haircut (MEE/Ahmed Deeb)
Many have fallen back on the livelihoods they relied upon in their native countries or have started small businesses selling cigarettes, food and setting up haircutting services. But the hairdressers find themselves practising their profession with a bare minimum of tools.

Customers watch Abo Mohammed carefully trim his client's hair (MEE/Ahmed Deeb)
Abo Mohammed, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo who was recently forced from his home after yet another Syrian government offensive to encircle the city, started to work as a barber in the camp a month after his arrival so that he could cover the high cost of life in Greece.
"I was working as [a] barber in Aleppo, but because of the heavy shelling from the Syrian regime and Russian airpower, I decided to migrate with my children to Europe to find a better future for them," he said, standing by the small wooden table that now serves as his makeshift haircutting stall. Equipped with just a pair of scissors, a cloudy mirror and an electric shaver, he powers his shaver using a power outlet from a nearby Greek restaurant. He charges his customers two to three Euros per haircut. 

Barbers have the basic tools they need to keep their business going (MEE/Ahmed Deeb)

"I have kids and what the non-governmental organisations give us is not sufficient to meet the needs of my children, so I decided to do something else to earn more money," Abo Mohammed stressed.

A refugee mother washes her family's laundry at the Idomeni camp (MEE/Ahmed Deeb)
A young Afghan man shaves his beard in front of his tent using a small mirror and razor blade. Despite lacking the skills or tools to do it well, some men prefer to shave their beards by themselves because they cannot afford to pay the barbers.

A young Afghan man shaves his beard (MEE/Ahmed Deeb)
On the train tracks, a Kurdish woman from Qamishli, Syria, who arrived in Greece a month ago on a rubber boat from the Turkish city of Izmir with her husband and two children, sets out a chair and brings out the simple hairdressing tools she bought in the Greek city of Thessaloniki.
As she cuts the hair of a young girl, she says, "Our village has been ruined and we lost our home during the fighting between the People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Islamic State (IS), so we had to leave to Turkey, but as the Turkish government doesn't like the Kurds, we decided to go to Europe.
"We have paid $1,600 to the smuggler to smuggle us from Turkey to Greece, but we didn't know that Europe will close the doors in our faces. Now we are running out of the money so I have to do something else to buy what my children need."

A young girl gets her hair cut near the camp's train tracks (MEE/Ahmed Deeb)
Jamal, a Syrian-Kurdish refugee from Kobani, says, "I was working hard in Turkey to collect money to reach Germany, and now I spent all the money I saved during my [more than] 40-day wait here for the border with Macedonia to open."
The NGOs that have now stationed themselves in Idomeni are distributing food, clothes and other needs which the refugees claim are not sufficient. Many are complaining of the bad services that aid workers are providing such as a lack of specific medicines, forcing them to start looking for other sources of money to sustain their living needs.

Getting a close shave by a trusted person is still a need among the camp's inhabitants (MEE/Ahmed Deeb)

Recently, one of the NGOs distributed food to refugees they later discovered contained rotten chicken, causing a bout of food poisoning in 15 refugees, one Syrian activist in Idomeni camp alleged.
Jostling for their turn, customers flock to the barbers of Idomeni camp to receive a trim and a cut during their interminable wait for the border to open. While refugees are caught in a no man's land of waiting, one thing is certain - no matter how dire the situation gets, the barbers and hairstylists will remain busy as people will always need haircuts.

Jamal, a Syrian-Kurdish refugee from Kobani, gives a haircut while young children look on (MEE/Ahmed Deeb)