NEA KAVALA, Greece — As her young children played near heaps of garbage, picking through burned corn cobs and crushed plastic bottles to fashion new toys, Shiraz Madran, a 28-year-old mother of four, turned with tear-rimmed eyes to survey the desolate encampment that has become her home.
This year, her family fled Syria, only to get stuck at Greece’s northern border with Macedonia in Idomeni, a town that had been the gateway to northern Europe for more than one million migrants from the Middle East and Africa seeking a haven from conflict. After Europe sealed the border in February to curb the unceasing stream, the Greek authorities relocated many of those massed in Idomeni to a camp on this wind-beaten agricultural plain in northern Greece, with promises to process their asylum bids quickly.
But weeks have turned into months, and Mrs. Madran’s life has spiraled into a despondent daily routine of scrounging for food for her dust-covered children and begging the authorities for any news about their asylum application. “No one tells us anything — we have no idea what our future is going to be,” she said.
“If we knew it would be like this, we would not have left Syria,” she continued. “We die a thousand deaths here every day.”
Seven months after the European Union shut the doors to large numbers of newcomers, Greece remains Europe’s de facto holding pen for 57,000 people trapped amid the chaos. Many are living in a distressing limbo in sordid refugee camps on the mainland and on Greek islands near Turkey.
A year after the world was riveted by scenes of desperate men, women and children streaming through Europe, international attention to their plight has waned now that the borders have been closed and they are largely confined to camps. Anti-immigrant sentiment has surged since last year in many countries, especially as people who entered Europe with the migrant flow are linked to crimes and, in a few cases, attacks planned or inspired by the Islamic State or other radical groups. Neither the prosperous nations of Western and Northern Europe, where the refugees want to settle, nor Turkey, their point of departure for the Continent, are living up to their promises of help.
In visits to four camps around Greece — on the island of Lesbos, on the northern Greek mainland and outside Athens — migrants already seared by conflict and poverty voiced common concerns about inadequate food and health care. They grappled with squalid living conditions, fears over their children’s health and education, and the psychological toll of living in constant uncertainty.