Three Afghans of seven or eight years throw stones at the waters of the Evros River, trying to reach each one further. They play, they exercise as children, what they are. Nor can they do much more to kill their time in the village of Doyran, on the Turkish edge of the river. From there, the other shore – Greece, the European Union – is so close that it seems very easy to reach. But it is almost impossible.
Although a third or more of the 15,000 refugees that crowd along the Turkish-Greek border are concentrated in the Pazarkule-Kastanies pass and around the ten-kilometer fence that delimits part of the border, since the night of the On Saturday many others have been directed towards the river side of the border, the Evros, which marks the separation between the two countries along 200 kilometers.
On Saturday night, hundreds of refugees tried to win the Greek shore in small boats. “We pass at nine or ten o’clock at night [del sábado]. [Los traficantes] They asked us 100 lira [unos 15 euros] per person and we cross in inflatable boats, ”explains Masud Haydari, a young Afghan. “But when we reached the other side, the Greek police stopped us. They stole everything, money, phones, spare pants … Everything. And they returned us to Turkey. ” They made them walk back across the river – the waters go down with little flow this year – despite the fact that at night temperatures drop below zero degrees. In the morning, Masud and eight other families sit in a meadow a few meters from the river, to dry their clothes among the fires. “It’s very cold here, there are many children and they get sick. We thought the border was open, and that’s why we left everything, our work, our home and came here. But the border is closed. ”
Members of different groups of migrants report similar behaviors from Greek border surveillance agents. Another group, about thirty Afghans, explains that they have been greeted with “shots in the air” by the Greek police and then returned to Turkey, a practice known as pushback or hot return, and that, despite the recent ruling of the Strasbourg Court, is prohibited by international law. Muhannad, an Iraqi from Mosul, reports that other fellow travelers have also suffered a similar fate: “We saw about a thousand people passing by. But our friends who crossed to Greece had their backpacks and phones removed and returned to Turkey. ” A villager from Doyran shows videos recorded hours before in which soaked Africans are seen, who were allegedly returned by the Greek authorities after having stripped them of their shirts and sweatshirts.
“Do not try to cross the border. No one can do it. Those who try to enter illegally are prevented from entering the country, ”warns an SMS from the Greek authorities that has begun to reach the phones of refugees displaced to the border. The pressure of the Greek Government, which has sent reinforcement police to the area and asked for help from the European agency Frontex, has caused that not a few refugees consider returning to the cities where they resided before this migration crisis. “We had made the decision to return to Istanbul. We were in taxis about ten or 15 families and we have stopped the Turkish police on the road. We have been told to return to the border, ”complains Zekerya, a young Iraqi; “Neither the Greeks let us pass nor the Turks let us return, so we don’t know what we are going to do. We have stayed in the middle. ”
There is no doubt that Turkey is interested in sending the more migrants to the border to increase pressure on the EU. The Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, continuously gives exact figures with messages of the kind: “Until 09.55 the number of migrants who have left our country through [la provincia de] Edirne is 76,358 ”. Messages that are then replicated in the Telegram, Facebook and WhatsApp groups that refugees use to inform themselves. It seems to be a technique used to show that the road is clear.
The Greek authorities describe these figures as “completely false.” According to the Greek police count, 139 migrants have been arrested after entering Hellenic territory, of which 17 Afghans have already been sentenced by a court to three and a half years in jail. Perhaps a few hundred more have managed to cross without being detected by the Greek authorities, because, as the Thracian governor, Jristos Metios, acknowledged to the Skaï chain, “the Evros river is really very long and there are easy passages. Despite the efforts of the security forces, some migrants manage to pass. ” But, of course, the numbers that Turkey gives are unreal.
On the Turkish shore it is also evident the action of traffickers in broad daylight. Traditionally in the villages of this area there are local traffickers who are dedicated to sending refugees and migrants, sometimes with people from the Greek side. But they usually act under cover of the night. On the other hand, on the morning of this Sunday, three who claimed to have come from Istanbul were trying to organize the crossing by shouting and offering boat seats to migrants.
“I never thought I would become a refugee. My family had a restaurant in Mosul and life was going well for us. But then came the Islamic State, the war, there was no stone on stone and we had to flee. In Turkey, life is very hard, I work 12 or 13 hours a day and I am alone. My father and mother are still in Iraq, the rest of my family is in France. I have not seen them in five years, ”Muhannad laments, desperate for not being able to continue forward or backward:“ We have been sleeping in the open for two days, with this cold. Neither Turkey nor Greece have mercy on us. ”