Kiwi Anna McPhee detained in Macedonia helping refugees in river crossing
A Kiwi who helped refugees in Greece make a desperate river crossing out the country's north was detained by the Macedonian military.
Christchurch 29-year-old Anna McPhee is among several aid workers and volunteers based in the northern Greek village Idomeni where some 14,000 refugees are living in tents, blocked from crossing the border to Macedonia.
Trapped in squalid, icy conditions, refugees – most of them from Syria – made a dire attempt around the border, trekking through a river after a leaflet with a map and instructions was disseminated.
McPhee, a former St John volunteer who left for Greece on January 11, took to her Facebook page to inform people she was detained on Monday night as she helped refugees make their fruitless trip.
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According to foreign media reports, 80 reporters and aid workers were arrested. Thousands of refugees were forcibly sent back to Greece. Three refugees drowned in the river crossing, and many more were detained.
McPhee sat in a field with refugees guarded by the Macedonian army for up to two hours. Mistaken for a refugee, she was taken to a police station and released about eight hours later.
"Whether the actions my group took were reasonable is questioned by some people, and for sure some decisions made were good, some not so good," she wrote on her Facebook page.
"Everybody makes mistakes and has to act in their best judgement. To let people drown in a river or lie sick and diminishing out in the hills was out of the question for us. Days on I am still a little overwhelmed by the whole situation. I feel we acted with our hearts and all did on an individual level what we believed to be right.
"We are humans and acted in the way I like to think many people I call friends would act."
McPhee is back in Greece. She has been banned from Macedonia for six months and needed to buy "an expensive piece of paper" to be freed.
For McPhee and other volunteers, the situation is delicate. Authorities believe some volunteers are responsible for the pamphlets, and they face the prospect of being charged with people smuggling and murder for those who died.
McPhee stressed she was not part of any scheme. She was only there to help refugees.
"I knew nothing about the papers, nor did I realise I was crossing into Macedonia," she said.
McPhee's voluntary work in Greece began in January, working as an independent volunteer with a rescue team and based in Pikpa Camp in Lesvos.
In Christchurch, McPhee had volunteered for St John since she was 19. During the first earthquake, she worked at a recovery centre in Linwood where she provided basic first aid and dealt with people who were panicked and distressed.