The Gre­co-Turk­ish bor­der has seen a con­sid­er­able arrival of migrants due to the Turk­ish regime’s black­mail on the Euro­pean Union. Here also, the “coro­n­avirus” is act­ing as a reveal­er, as well as a threat.

Türkçe Taz Gazete | Français | English

The report by Vecih Cuz­dan was pub­lished in Turk­ish on Taz Gazete on March 19 2020.

The Turk­ish Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or has closed the bor­der toward Greece because of the coro­n­avirus. Turned back at the bor­der, the migrants attempt to pick up their life in Turkey. Some are deter­mined in not com­ing back.

Mah­yar who worked for a bar­ber in the Esen­ler neigh­bor­hood in Istan­bul who only hired Ira­ni­ans, received an unex­pect­ed phone call on Feb­ru­ary 28. A col­league who had­n’t shown up for work was call­ing. This is how Mah­yar learned that the bor­ders were open. He decid­ed to seize the oppor­tu­ni­ty. With ten oth­er peo­ple, includ­ing his com­pan­ion Mari­am and three col­leagues, he rent­ed a minibus at a cost of 170€ and head­ed for Edirne. Once there, while pos­ing for jour­nal­ists they met, they fig­ured this would be their last pho­to of Turkey where they had been liv­ing for a year or so.

But when they saw how the Greek secu­ri­ty forces were act­ing at the bor­der, they decid­ed to head back imme­di­ate­ly to Istan­bul. Where Mah­yar now waits, once again, for the same cus­tomers in the same bar­ber shop. He wears a cap bear­ing the fol­low­ing words: “My life is my life”. He speaks, low­er­ing his head: “So it was­n’t the right moment to head for Europe. Even if we had man­aged to make it into Greece, we would have been stuck over there. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment and the media lied to us.”

Fol­low­ing the Turk­ish gov­ern­men­t’s mes­sage at the end of Feb­ru­ary “we have opened the doors”, tens of thou­sands of migrants trav­elled toward the Gre­co-Turk­ish bor­der. From the onset of the cri­sis, the Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or, Süley­man Soy­lu had com­mu­ni­cat­ed dai­ly fig­ures of peo­ple who had entered Europe. His last dec­la­ra­tion was on March 7th. Claim­ing that the num­ber of migrants who had crossed the bor­der num­bered over 143,000, Soy­lu spoke enourag­ing words: “The weath­er is warm now and the tem­per­a­ture is still ris­ing. The water lev­el is down to 45 cm in cer­tain areas. This means you can cross over on foot.”

Because of the prob­lems find­ing shel­ter, food and hygien­ic con­di­tions, along with the uncer­tain­ty of the sit­u­a­tion, a num­ber of peo­ple went back to the towns they had left. Pres­i­dent Erdo­gan, crit­i­cized for his poli­cies, held a video­con­fer­ence on March 17 with Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Boris John­son. The Euro­pean lead­ers said they were favor­able to finan­cial aid for Turkey from the Euro­pean Union, so that the migrants remain in Turkey. The fol­low­ing day, the Turk­ish Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or announced that the Greek and Bul­gar­i­an bor­ders were closed due to the coro­n­avirus. Fol­low­ing this deci­sion, it is expect­ed that those who have gone on wait­ing for three weeks in the buffer zone between the bor­ders of Pazarkule and Kas­ta­nies will be sent back to Istanbul.

Despite head­ing back to Istan­bul, Mah­yar (28) and his com­pan­ion Miri­am (24) have not lived down what they expe­ri­enced at the bor­der. Mari­am, who works part-time in a beau­ty salon and sells on Insta­gram dress­es she cre­ates says she fell into a depres­sion upon return­ing from Edirne. She says it was not easy, see­ing all those peo­ple sleep­ing under tarps and speaks of how she felt when one of the gas pel­lets fell at her feet. “I could­n’t breathe, I could­n’t think. All I heard were voic­es. Women scream­ing, chil­dren crying…all I want­ed was to flee.” She says she has tried talk­ing with her friends, and get­ting back to a dai­ly rou­tine. “We had things to lose, even if they were very few things. We tried to cling to them.”

Syr­i­ans with a “tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion” sta­tus in Turkey are allowed to work, under spe­cif­ic con­di­tions and lim­i­ta­tions. Most of the migrants from Iran, Irak or Afghanistan have less rights. For exam­ple, the res­i­den­cy per­mit, based on visa agree­ments between Iran and Turkey, can­not extend more than a total of 90 days every 6 months. Strangers with no legal sta­tus must pay a “res­i­den­cy tax” dur­ing their stay in Turkey.

Accord­ing to Mah­yar, Turkey sees refugees as tourists and only cares about their mon­ey: “One day they say ‘you can stay’, the next day ‘we won’t give out any more res­i­den­cy per­mits’. If you have mon­ey, buy an apart­ment and become a cit­i­zen. If you have no mon­ey, you have no busi­ness being here. It is not a sta­ble sit­u­a­tion.” Mah­yar men­tions they had sought per­mis­sion from their boss who is a good and under­stand­ing per­son: “We told him we would come back if we could­n’t get through. He said ‘ok’ and gave us two, three days for the attempt.”

This is not the case for many peo­ple who have been wait­ing by the bor­der for the past three weeks. The migrants patient­ly wait­ing , faced by bar­ri­cades, blocks of con­crete and barbed wire have no life wait­ing for them in Istan­bul. On March 13, two young Afgha­nis began a hunger strike and sewed their mouths shut as a protest against what is going on on the border.

An activist who does not wish to be iden­ti­fied and who has been fol­low­ing events on the bor­der for the past 20 days, says peo­ple from Afghanistan are numer­ous in the zone: “Among them, the major­i­ty feels they were tricked. Most of them had a more or less set­tled life and came here, leav­ing a house, leav­ing a job. Some don’t want to go back for that very rea­son, they say they don’t know what they will would do if they went back.

Negotiations are ongoing, perhaps there will be some result”

Kusay, a Syr­i­an, has been “shel­ter­ing” for the past two weeks with his fam­i­ly under a makeshift tent. The zone being closed off to all media except those close to the gov­ern­ment, Taz Gazete was able to reach Kusay any­way, over the phone. He explained they were try­ing to stay clean by wash­ing in the riv­er, stand in line for hours in order to eat. Kusay says he must pro­vide his fin­ger­prints in order to leave the zone and go to a super­mar­ket some three kilo­me­ters away and for this pro­ce­dure in itself, he must wait in line for hours.

Among the migrants who learned the bor­ders would be closed, there are some who board­ed the bus­es wait­ing to take them back to Istan­bul, but there are oth­ers still attempt­ing to cross into Greece by cut­ting through the barbed wire… Kusay says he wants to wait here, at least for a few more days, despite every­thing. There is no work wait­ing for him in Istan­bul: “Per­haps there will be some pos­i­tive result, fol­low­ing the nego­ti­a­tions between Erdo­gan and the Euro­pean leaders.”

From time to time, Kusay hears bit of news. In a group on Telegram titled “The pro­ces­sion break­ing through bor­ders”, there are news and the men­tion of any progress. There is also con­firmed infor­ma­tion… One Syr­i­an writes “Nego­ti­a­tions are ongo­ing, per­haps there will be some result”. Anoth­er shares a video of an extra­or­di­nary ses­sion at the Ger­man Par­lia­ment under the head­ing “The Europan Union votes for the migrants’ sit­u­a­tion.” At times, over one thou­sand mes­sages are pub­lished. Peo­ple no longer know who they should believe. Hope that springs up sud­den­ly dis­ap­pears just as quick­ly. But the real­i­ty in Europe is that what is hap­pen­ing on the bor­der is dis­cussed less and less as the days go by. Because, hence­forth, coro­n­avirus defines what is news and what isn’t…

Aca­d­e­m­ic Cavi­dan Soykan who works on themes of human rights, asy­lum and migra­tion, also states that, because of the coro­n­avirus, the media no longer pro­vide infor­ma­tion con­cern­ing the peo­ple crammed at the bor­ders and that the “open door” pol­i­cy is com­ing to an end. She adds that per­sons who are sent toward the bor­der may find them­selves with jail sen­tences or fines for hav­ing left the town where they were reg­is­tered and points out that the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion leads to an increase in racist attacks against the migrants: “I’m con­cerned by the thought that, should Covid-19 become a seri­ous epi­dem­ic, the price for this will be paid by the migrants forced to return from the border”.

In the bar­ber­shop in Esen­ler, the news has also changed. The cou­ple who came from Iran to Turkey with the hope of a life more free and secure has put a hold on its dream of reach­ing Europe for the time being. They are nonethe­less con­vinced that Turkey holds no promise of a future for them. Mah­yar goes on work­ing 12 hours a day. In this large and spa­cious salon, on the ground floor of a recent­ly built build­ing, half of what each cus­tomer pays for a shave, is for him.

After a momen­t’s silence, he asks the ques­tion both­er­ing him: “does the coro­n­avirus also touch barbers?”

Vecih Cuz­dan

A few days later:
Evacuation of Migrants on the Greco-Turkish border

Pho­to à la Une : Murat Bay

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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