IDOMENI, Greece — A Syrian mother stranded with her children in a squalid refugee camp insisted she still had hope of crossing the Greek border as leaders met Thursday in Brussels to discuss the migrant crisis.
Fatima Ahmad pleaded for help, saying she and her family are living like animals in the muddy, disease-ridden Idomeni camp that has sprung up next to the closed border crossing between Greece and Macedonia.
“We can’t live like this,” she told NBC News. “We need a room, a home... a warm bed. We need clean food, clean clothes.”
Ahmad said life in sprawling camp was almost as miserable as the civil war that she fled with her husband and five children.
“In Syria we die quickly, but in this place we die slowly,” she said, frustrated with the political paralysis that has gripped Europe as nations move to close their borders to the stem the tide of migrants. “We have nothing... just talking, talking, talking. Every government in Europe does nothing for us.”
European Union leaders were holding talks in Brussels Thursday with Turkey's prime minister to try to hammer out a deal to end the continent's worst migrant crisis since WW II.
Despite the terrible conditions there, Ahmad remains optimistic that something will change to allow her to press north.
“I still have hope,” Ahmad said.
Her spirts have been buoyed by help from aid workers — and the prospect of reaching her 13-year-old son Iham, who went on ahead as an unaccompanied minor and is living in Germany on a temporary visa.
“Every day he calls me [and says] ‘Please come, I can’t live alone,’” Ahmad said. “For that [reason], I have hope. I should have hope, to go to my son.”
In the meantime, she is stuck in Idomeni with her husband and their other four children — including daughter Arwa, 9, who spent a week in a local hospital with Hepatitis A.
Disease is rife in the camp, where there is little water and where long lines for temporary facilities mean many people use the fields as a bathroom.
“I have no choice — no money, no home, no anything. I can’t return to Syria because everybody knows it is war [and] … many sides fight all day, all night. My children can’t go to school.”
Sarah Collis, a nurse with aid group Medicine du Monde (Doctors of the World), said there was “a lot of frustration” among refugees at Idomeni who realize there's "nothing they can do" about the border situation.
“There’s nowhere they can go. They cannot go back anywhere. They’re stuck, really,” she told NBC News.
She said there are many pregnant women in the Idomeni camp and said coughs, fevers and dehydration were among medical issues that have begun to emerge in the crowded makeshift settlement due to poor sanitation.
“We had one woman who had a Caesarean section, discharged from hospital five days later with a baby and then she came back into us with a hemorrhage," Collis said. "They were living in a two-man tent — her, her mother, her husband and the baby — and it wasn’t even waterproof.”
While aid is available, Collins said refugees often have to wait in long lines.
“They have to fight for everything that’s available... everybody has to fight for what they need,” she said.
Jamieson Lesko has been a London-based producer since December 2010. Her responsibilities have included serving as Bureau Chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, and reporting from Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, France, Germany and England.
Lesko joined NBC News from MSNBC, where she was an executive producer. In that role, she led her primetime programs through periods of unprecedented ratings growth. During her time at MSNBC, she guided coverage of breaking news stories on location in Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus during the war of 2006, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the London terror bombings and the historic 2008 presidential election.
Prior to her work at MSNBC, Lesko worked at CNN in Atlanta and New York, where she contributed to the network's live coverage of 9/11, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lesko was nominated for an Emmy award for Outstanding Continuing Coverage Of A News Story for contributions to "The Battle For Libya" on "Nightly News With Brian Williams."