Letter from Europe’s border

A question for the European politicians thrashing out a plan to provide “assistance” to Syria: if a bedraggled Syrian escapes the war, if he escapes the chaos of the refugee camps in Iraq or Jordan or Turkey, if he arrives tired but hopeful on your doorstep, what will happen to him?

Border fence in Evros, Greece. Turkey is on the other side of the fence.

Europe rejects refugees

Flowing from Bulgaria to the Aegean Sea, the River Evros forms a natural border between Greece and Turkey. At night the shallow waters and islands provide a lifeline for the migrants and asylum seekers using the river as a passage into Europe. Many drown attempting to cross. Or they are deliberately pushed back by EU border patrol. A Syrian refugee tells his story.

Nobody leaves home if things are good

Mohammed Sultan arrives in the Greek border town of Soufli early one cold January morning. His eyes are sad and downcast, his feet and trousers covered in mud and he can barely walk. Dragging his leg heavily he asks, “If I go to the police station, will they deport me?” The 38-year-old left his wife and children in Palestine and paid nearly $2,000 to get to Europe. He and his friend Ahmed crossed the River Evros the day before in an inflatable boat with eight other people. Then they walked all night through forests and fields till they came to…

Frontex guards arrest 22-year-old Mohammed

“Our job is to prevent them coming here” – EU border police

The Frontex operation is slick; policemen in military observation towers monitor the area with thermal vision cameras. If they see any migrants, they radio officers on the ground. They are reluctant to talk on the record about their work, but one Frontex officer says that if any migrants are spotted, they are “prevented” from crossing. How?

Greek riot police kettle protestors

“Greece is becoming a big concentration camp”

This is an extreme description of the effects of Greece’s dysfunctional asylum system, but one that Athens councillor Petros Konstantinou insists on. “The whole of Greece is becoming a concentration camp with no political rights, with no workers’ rights and [only] the absolute rule of the authorities,” he says. While Petros’ anger is about more than an unjust asylum system, that higher bodies are concerned means this is about more than politics. Earlier this month the European Court of Human Rights’ ordered Belgium to pay a fine for returning an Afghan asylum seeker to Greece. This follows moves by several…

“We won’t eat till they look at our claim”

Here are some pics that tell the story as eloquently as reams of text… the ones of the police kettle are by the wonderful Dimitris A and the rest are mine. I’ve also done a bit of filming, but it needs a lot of editing so might not be up for a while. The title of this post is a quote from Ezmerey, one of the Afghan campaigners speaking on behalf of his friends on hunger strike. One of the big problems with seeking asylum in Greece, is that the actual process is incredibly difficult. These men aren’t appealing a…

Reza and his daughter outside the ministry of citizen protection in Athens

“We are here and we are human”

18 January 2011- “What is happening? What is going on?” asks a young woman looking shocked and slightly fearful. “It is a quiet area, it’s unusual this is happening here. In the centre [of Athens] yes, but not here”, she says, gesturing at the immaculate tree-lined streets leading up to the Greek ministry for citizen protection. What had unsettled the woman was that about metre from where she was waiting for a bus, at least 20 armed police officers had formed two semi-circles around 15 Afghani men, women and children preventing them from leaving a small area of pavement. Ten…