Saving lives on the border of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Publié: 25 août 2015 22:48 CET

Paramedic Pavel Ignov gently shakes a badly dehydrated woman who has collapsed in the dirt just over the Former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia’s border with Greece. “Stay with me Rania. Stay here, stay here,” he says. Rania is from Syria and has been waiting in the hot sun with her husband and family for a train to leave the town of Gevgelija. She is three months pregnant.  

As she begins to lose consciousness Pavel turns to the Arabic interpreter in his team: “Keep talking to her, don’t stop.” He pours cool water on her neck and head, asks her to drink some oral rehydration solution, raises her feet up onto a backpack and organises her family to hold a blanket to shade her face.

“Get back!” he says to the growing crowd of onlookers and media.

The 26-year-old paramedic is part of a team of five providing first aid to the thousands of people passing through Gevgelija, at the country’s southern border with Greece. His team has three paramedics, a doctor and an interpreter. They work around 12 hours each day. The Red Cross of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has four other teams like Pavel’s working on the border with Greece and the northern border with Serbia, including one team that works the night shift.

Around 4,000 people cross the border daily, and Pavel’s team reaches around 2,000 of them, providing food, water, hygiene kits, infant packs and blankets, as well as emergency medical assistance.

Pavel and his colleagues are all in their 20s but are highly-trained, experienced and committed. They have been with the Red Cross for years, some since they were children. They are volunteers, but are currently being paid to work at the borders because the need is so great and they are working long hours.  They give first aid to around 200 people each day, but on a recent weekend they saw almost 900 people in two days. They transfer the worst cases to hospital.

“When a group of migrants arrives, we walk around and check if anyone needs help,” says 22-year-old paramedic Mirela Skrijelj. “We are constantly doing a circuit. We look out for pregnant women, children and elderly people. Usually people will come to us or we will get a call to attend the most urgent cases.

“We see children with diarrhoea and vomiting, people with insect bites and allergies, people with wounds to their feet from walking so far, and there are also people with sunburn, cuts, epilepsy, diabetes, dental problems, fainting and old wounds from knives or guns,” she says.

The doctor in the group, Magdalena Jakimovska, 27, says she is used to the work and has learned to put her emotions aside. But the cases that stay with her are the women who miscarry their babies – about two each week, and the lucky people who would have died if the team were not there.

“Two days ago at the border there was one guy who had epilepsy. We had to give CPR and resuscitate him six times on the border and another six times on the way to hospital . He’s fine now,” she says.

Asked how many people they have lost, Magdalena smiles. “Nobody died while we were here.”

Back at the border, Pavel is finally getting a response from Rania. Her eyes have started to focus and she is able to sit up and drink. Her family carries her to a large tent where she can seek shade while she waits for a train to take her to Serbia.

“Thank you, thank you,” her husband says. Pavel smiles and pats the man on the back. He heads back towards his car but is soon surrounded by more people who need help.


The Red Cross of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been responding to the migrant crisis throughout the country since the start of June 2015 and has 120 volunteers and 20 staff involved in the response.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has released 193,218 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to help Red Cross of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia meet the emergency needs and reduce the vulnerabilities of 10,000 people.