We are gathering and reposting the field notes taken by local activist for three weeks during the crises in Pazarkule/Evros border which was aggravated by Turkey, Greece and EU’s border policies and politics of bargaining over human lives. You can find the same report series in Turkish and German (partially translated).
Day 1|| 29 February 2020
Rain is pouring down. While driving on the way to Edirne, we saw at least 20 taxis passing by, that have Istanbul’s plate number. On the side of the highway, we could barely see shadows of people who are walking to the border.
Police blocked the way in Karaağaç, the closest village to the border. From there on, people who came with taxis and buses were going towards the border by walking, in groups of 5 to 30. Although a few, some people were walking back from the border, telling that they were deceived; Greece police were throwing gas bombs over there.
A taxi driver from Ankara cautiously said that he brought passengers for 1600 TL (around 230 euro). This is not the only example, we saw how people could turn their needs and desires into a relationship of interest; from the people who are selling water to the ones telling “we make them pass if there is any passenger”. On the other hand, it is still possible to travel to Edirne (the city close to the border) at moderate prices by train or bus.
After leaving our vehicles to a spot out of sight, we passed 2.5 km by walking. This area is closed to traffic. The temperature was around -1 C.
From the center of Edirne to the border gate there are 4 checkpoints of police and gendarmerie. But we haven’t seen an identity check or any other control being made for people who are walking towards the border.
As we approached the border, the crowd was growing. As we realized the border fence were cut next to Pazarkapı customs, we headed towards the other side of the border. People in crowds were sitting around campfires they made. So many fires burning close to each other was making it difficult to breath, leaving the area under smoke, but they also took the temperature to a bearable level. People were wet, the ground was densely muddy. It was difficult to see all the people there in the dark, we estimate that there were around two thousand people around 6 in the morning.
Lots of young people were just in front of the fences built in front of Greece gate, waiting with joy and worry. Time to time they were shouting slogans, demanding the border gate to be open. Meanwhile in the side of Greece, riot police came out from two buses and filed into two lines. After a while, they were trying to disperse the crowd by throwing göz yaşartıcı gas bombs.
We were stopped while video shooting in the buffer zone, and taken into a small interrogation. The military officer who took our identities said that the border is only open to migrants, and that it is not alright that we are in the buffer zone as being TR citizens. Though, they were not firm on technicalities.
Although there were lots of Syrian people amongst who we talked, there were also many people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and different African countries.
Despite the mass of crowds, there is no infrastructure all around. Toilet and basic hygiene is a serious problem at the moment. There is no water, neither food. Hunger has become a critical issue.
After getting a sense of how things work in the space, we went to Edirne city center to get the possible needs. After getting bottled gas, lentils, bread, and other kitchen equipment, we took a break to rest for a bit.
On the way back to the zone, we got close to the border point as much
as possible, passing in between fields. This time police and
gendarmerie made long interrogations about who we are and why we are
here. When we talked openly about our intention, we got warned not to
take too much attention. Now, we could settle a space 500 meters close
to the border.
After people recognized that there were loaves of bread loaded in one of the cars, a crowd started to gather around the car. When we tried to explain that we are going to cook soup and distribute bread together with it, we were answered: “nevermind about the soup, my kids are hungry, give me the bread and I go”.
We made another walk towards the border, spoke with people and recorded voice. Two Irani people, among those we spoke, were looking for a bus to return to Istanbul. They decided to work for a few more months, gather money and cross by the sea in the summer. With the enthusiasm of being there, another one decided to stay there one more day waiting, and return to Istanbul the next day if nothing changes.
Across the street, there were three buses we learned to belong to the Migration Management Directorate. However, we could not discover why those busses were waiting there.
The hope to cross to Europe left its place to misery little by little. Many people are leaving the area or getting prepared to leave the area, with the disappointment of not being able to cross the border and with the regret for having spoiled the order they have built so far in Turkey.
Still numbers of arrivals increased dramatically in the daytime. Around 17:00 we estimate the number of those who gathered at the border gate to be around four or six thousand. This is an estimation made based on what we could observe. Meanwhile, maybe around the same amount of people are spread around the open fields in the border zone.
On the other hand, traffic police removed most of the cars outside of the border zone. We are not sure how long we can remain here.
Although cooking is a major need, we don’t know how far we can respond to it. We decided to wait a little bit more and cook evening soup.
Within the current uncertainty, it is not possible to estimate, for how long people will keep staying here. However we maintain a nice presence. The question of whether we want to keep being active here addresses all of those who read this text. Still we value maintaining existence here, as long as the situation continues.
We don’t know if it is possible to set up an info point. But it looks like it is necessary to organize financial and human resources and ensure a rotation during the week if this activity shall continue. It seems important that at least two or three people are present here everyday. Especially those who can speak various languages, in order to spread correct information.
Day 2|| 1 March 2020
We learned that a friend from Migrant Solidarity Network Ankara was hassled for taking photos from the checkpoint and not allowed to pass through the checkpoint. It was useful that we came to the field early and parked our vehicles in the area right next to the road. Although we don’t know how we appear from the outside, no one told us that we need to leave. However, after learning about interventions by the police, we decided to be more careful, especially while working on photo and video materials. Today, they /removed all the vehicles on the roads on the way to the border gate. The gendarmerie asked us to go out of the checkpoint. For now, we have had to leave the field. Nobody is allowed to enter the zone except migrants and state officials.
The road to the border was almost empty. There were only migrants walking to the border on foot, and big buses, one after another, entering the zone empty and leaving full of migrants. We went to the departure points to try to understand what the buses are for. The officials next to the vehicles said to the people gathered around them, “Don’t wait here. Even if our government opened the borders, the Greek side did not. With these buses, you can go to the riverside (Meric) without paying a fee, and from the riverside, some boats will take you to the Greek side for only 20 liras per person”. Most people refused to believe them. The official insisted: “We know the safest way. The river is only 20 meters wide. And then you’ll have to walk 3 kilometres to arrive in the closest village.” Once the buses were full of people who had decided to take them up on the offer, they left.
After talking with several people, we left the place where the buses were. When we look at the border, there are vast fields on the left and a forested area on the right. People have spread out into the forest. Between the two borders, the dry branches of the giant trees, almost like baobabs, provided fuel to warm up with in the forest area of this buffer zone that has not been entered for years. Looking from the top of a slightly hilly spot, the image of people gathered at the heads of hundreds of fire blocks, big and small, is striking.
The owner of the field that we parked our car next to came to see us. The crops in his area were damaged by the people that passed through the fields. Also, the plastic cover on the crops was taken away by the migrants in order to be used against the wind and rain. The sympathetic attitude of the farmer to the migrants despite his obvious material loss and sharing what was left of the crops as well as some other food he’d had in storage was to be appreciated.
We came across a group of Afghan migrants. They had started a little party, singing songs together in front of the fire. One of them told us that the one who was singing a song was quite famous in Afghanistan. After some time, we went to another party started by Eritreans. The songs that they sang all together on African rhythms were really affecting. On Saturday night, the whole forest was like a festival field.
We went to our vehicle for a little rest, and as decided before, cleaned our materials and set up our stove to operate our kitchen. We made soup, trying not to draw more attention since we did not know what kind of reactions we might get. Since the number of people is high and there was no food in the zone, we set up our service table away from the camping area. And we distributed about 150 meals to prevent any excess overcrowding. We had a lot of conversations by the table, which was set up in the cold late at night.
Again many migrants were arriving in the morning. The numbers of the police and the soldiers had also increased. The people we talked to told us that they decided to travel after hearing on TV that the borders were open. Some of them came here by gathering their families in the night without even getting the money they are owed from their workplaces.
After the report we wrote yesterday, we contacted friends from Edirne City Council. However, while coming to the zone with some journalists, they were stopped at the checkpoint and not allowed inside. They also passed to Doyuran Village, where more buses carried people. According to what Edirne City Council reported, about 60 Afghan immigrants were waiting at the river. There was no vehicle there capable of crossing the river. Armed Greek soldiers were waiting across the river. Because of this, the purpose of the buses departing from here remains uncertain.
In the morning we met with some friends who came from Istanbul. The most important part of our brief information was that we had to be careful, primarily when working on photography and video. After our short conversation, we learned that two of them had been taken into custody while doing interviews in the buffer zone.
Four other reporters who came from Istanbul were prevented from entering the zone. They are now waiting around Karaagac village.
Now, since it’s the weekend, the crowd is so much bigger. People keep coming. We can say that the number of migrants around the border is up to ten thousand, without exaggeration. The tension is high. Teargas bombs and sound bombs are constantly thrown from the Greek side. The screaming and gunfire have become normalised. We can not get too close to the border. But we can get the news from people passing through.
Even if there are thousands of people, there is no presence of any NGOs, government, or health organizations that actively work in the field. There is a minibus that belongs to the Turkish Red Crescent. It was the water and chocolate we saw in the food cans that were distributed, and UNCHR was written on them. There is no hot food anywhere in the field.
There is no access to water in the field. People have to walk to the village 2.5 kilometers away in order to access it. However, since use of the checkpoint in the zone was not permitted for either the entrance of Turkish citizens and or the exiting of migrants, people go away from the road and enter and leave by the surrounding fields. Indeed, it is not possible for them to reach the village. There is only one toilet van in the area, and that arrived just this morning.
The weather is incredibly cold at night. In this cold, which is still felt even while sleeping in a car, people sleep outdoors in the fields. They are looking for plastic covers to lay on.
We also heard that a woman gave birth at the checkpoint, and there was no medical support.
We can recommend our friends who want to contribute financially to connect with the nearest anti-border and migrant solidarity groups. Also, it is very hard to bring any materials inside. People who want to support are directed to state institutions like Red Crescent and AFAD. However, it seems like this exodus will go on for a while. We will try to update as new necessities arise.
There is also the issue of voluntourism, which makes things harder. We expect people who want to come here to give the necessary attention and importance, knowing where they are coming to and what the conditions might be like. Sadly, we must sadly express that our forced exit from the field by the border was caused by the lax attitude of some of the people who were in the buffer zone.
Even if we are out of the fences, we think being present here and around the area is essential. For all this week, we were able to organize the presence of at least 2-3 of us each day. Friends who would like to get involved in this rotation can communicate with us.
Day 3|| 2 March 2020
Yesterday we left Pazarkule around 8 pm in order to observe the situation at the Ipsala border crossing. When we were leaving the field, we noticed that the queue for the free food spot, which had finally been set up, was too long with long waiting times. The food being distributed was just biscuits and snacks and no nutrition value.
While passing through Uzunkopru we saw a group of migrants waiting at a police checkpoint where the police officers were trying to convince them to get on the buses that were heading to Meric river. Shortly after, we parked our cars in a spot 5 kilometers away from the Ipsala border crossing; then we had some rest for a few hours.
In the morning, we headed to Ipsala border crossing. On our way to Ipsala, we saw a couple of hundred migrants, either heading to the border or going back. They were mostly Afghanis, but we even came across 2 Turkish citizens who wanted to cross the border with others gathered.
Unlike Pazarkule, there is no military presence here. The police were on high alert, and controls were tightened at the border crossing. We learned that this gate has remained open for crossings to facilitate commerce and tourism, and the mayor and local governor are also here throughout the day.
Waiting around the gate was strictly prohibited for migrants here. Cops are putting a lot of pressure on migrants to get them on the bus. These buses are owned by the same company as the one we saw at Pazarkule. We confirmed it from both the police officers and bus drivers that these white buses are working under the Turkish Directorate General of Migration Management, and each bus is accompanied by at least one police officer. With these buses, migrants are being transferred to the fields and military zones along the border.
Meanwhile, based on the information we received from our friends who witnessed the crossing attempts in the border villages yesterday, similar pressures were applied in the military fields accompanied by intelligence, gendarmerie and police. We know that attempts are being made to persuade the migrants to be sent among the Greek soldiers. In addition, we learned that the boats rented to some immigrants were seized by different soldiers after a certain period of time.
The ones who do not want to take the buses at the Ipsala border gate are scolded and want to take care of themselves and are immediately removed from the zone. We hear a police officer yelling to two people who do not want to get on the bus and walk back, saying, “We have been shouting since morning, we will take it for free, but if you pass by yourself, they will beat you and take your money and phone back.” However, those who wish can bargain with the civilian vehicles located there and can access their desired places for a fee.
One of the points where the groups are transferred is a wedding hall in the village of Karpuzlu. This is a small building in the village; Gendarmerie units, ambulances, and Red Crescent teams are in front of it, controlling the area.
We followed the Karpuzlu-Enez road and tried to see the entire borderline. Behind the rice fields stretching along this road, we saw empty white buses turning from the zero point of the border. We guess that they leave the migrants to the determined transit points and return.
When we arrived at the town of Enez, we did not encounter any checkpoints. It is difficult to speak of the presence of any migrants in the town; life continues as usual.
Now, we’ve decided to go to the Pazarkule border gate again after our break to write our observations. Since we are sure that we will not be able to enter the point we have been to before, we want to set up an information desk as close as possible to the control point and continue cooking soup for those who arrive at night. After observing the current situation there, we strongly remind you that we will need shifts to maintain our presence here.
Day 4|| 3 March 2020
For our Report on Day 4, firstly we would like to highlight the importance of shifts and rotation to sustain our activities. We suggest that those who are willing to take part in the coordination could be communicated through a single contact.
As the shift team for Day 4, we left Istanbul at midnight. We were stopped at the police checks twice on the way, first 28 km away from Edirne at 03.20 am, and then on the Meric Bridge at 03.50 am. At the first check, we were asked if there were any migrants in the car. In the second one, besides the same question mentioned above, the officers asked our names and destination. We told them that we were driving to Karaagac and headed to the current team at the field who were waiting for us.
When we woke up in the morning, we walked through the dirt road from Karaagac village to the first control spot at Pazarkule to observe the situation on the field. Unlike the previous days, the field was completely surrounded by police barriers. The entrances to the border crossing and buffer zone were controlled by setting up a single entrance, and it was no longer possible for us to enter or leave the zone through the surrounding plains. We could no longer enter the buffer zone and point zero where we managed to enter on Day 2. We think that the new setting here was due to the official visits to the border crossing along with a more general intention to control the area.
While walking to the area, we made a phone call to Dr. Ertugrul Tanrıkulu, who is the Deputy Mayor of Edirne and City Council President. We informed him about our intention to serve free soup at the zone. He told us that any aid by individuals was prohibited by the Governor and AFAD, and that the Directorate General of Migration was the only organization allowed to distribute aid beyond the checkpoint. He also informed us that all individual or institutional aid sent from different parts of the country are being collected at the Edirne Chamber of Medicine under the coordination of City Council. These aids are being transferred to AFAD and the Directorate General of Migration regularly to be distributed in the field. The contacts are available on the website edirnetabipodasi.org for sending aid.
Under these circumstances, we realized that the most reasonable spot for serving soup would be the area situated at the crossroads of Karaagac Village before the checkpoint where there is an active movement of migrants entering and leaving. Our friends from Women’s Defense Network that we met at the checkpoint told us that there is a group of migrants in Doyran village, 25 km south of Edirne on the shore of Meric river, and that the mukhtar (local authority) is distributing aid themselves, and said that they were also heading to this village. Then we decided to go to the village they mentioned to check if that would be an alternative location to serve soup.
When we arrived in Doyran, we encountered about 150-200 migrants scattering over the field in small groups, some of them with tents, in an area of approximately 5 acres surrounded by poplar trees on the banks of the Meriç River. There were also many journalists shooting in the field. While entering the field, two UAV live broadcasts also attracted our attention. There were also several vehicles distributing clothes to the children. We approached one of the pick-up vehicles and asked who they were. They said that they came individually from the Gazi neighborhood. There were other vehicles as well that were distributing food in the area. Meanwhile, there was a completely different environment where we heard that nine journalists were taken into custody the day before. The situation gave us the impression that it was introduced as a planned scene. We decided that this place was not suitable for a soup distribution point.
To summarize what the migrants told us in Doyran, many of them are aware that they will not be able to pass through this point. Still, they are also pessimistic about returning since they left everything behind and do not believe that they could re-establish their life there again. One of the people said, despite knowing the danger of crossing the border, “I will try tomorrow, or I will come back if not.”
Another friend with whom we talked on our way to Karaağaç from Doyran said that they heard that there was a group of migrants at Edirne Bus Terminal. So, we also decided to look there. There were about 200 migrants around the station in small groups. Unlike Doyran, we have not seen journalists here, neither police nor gendarme. Our friends with whom we have been communicating told us that they would distribute soup and food there. Since we thought that their presence would be enough, we returned to Karaağaç to start soup distribution at the junction in front of the Pazarkule checkpoint.
When we arrived at the checkpoint at 20:00, we encountered cars selling blankets and tarps at a price much higher than that of those which we saw on the way to the junction. On the other road leading up to the crossroads, commercial buses were bringing migrants to the area one after the other. There were live broadcast vehicles in front of the checkpoint. While approximately 12,000 migrants were waiting under challenging conditions in the area, only newly arrived migrants were entering from the checkpoint. Journalists were kept miles away from the migrants in Pazarkule. They were not allowed to pass through the checkpoint, as they were crosschecking identities of those who tried to cross the point as in one we saw in the village of Doyran. We heard that even journalists who have hidden their identity among migrants are detained when they are noticed.
After informing the gendarme at the checkpoint, we started to settle our kitchen by locating ourselves at the most active place of the junction. We started our preparation for the soup with two Iranian migrants A. and R., whom we met there and quickly became friends. As A. is a world cuisine chef, we cooked delicious lentil soup and started to distribute. The table, where we distributed soup, had quickly turned into a small assembly.
Day 5|| 4 March 2020
It is our fifth day on the field. The day began with the large groups of migrants arriving at Pazarkule checkpoint in the darkness, which went on until the afternoon.
Around 9:30am, we heard the sounds of machine gun fire coming from the Greek side followed by the ambulance sirens going in and out of the region. We kept hearing gunshots for another half an hour. By the time we got together in front of our car, the checkpoint was already full of journalists’ vehicles, most of which had license plates beginning with number 34. At 11:30am, TBMM (Parliament of TR) Human Rights Commission, arrived at the checkpoint from areas where the migrants were, and issued a press statement.
At 3:00pm, it became chaotic at the checkpoint. The gendarme was chasing groups of migrants as they were trying to enter the checkpoint clearing the police barriers while other group of migrants was heading towards the border through the empty fields. And on the other side, there were also migrants gathering at the gate trying to cross the checkpoint, and the journalists trying to capture images of this chaotic situation.
Undercover gendarme teams got the journalists and then all the other non-migrants out of the front of the checkpoint, which was also the place we were at. All the non-migrant “elements”, including us, were kicked out of the area with their vehicles to a place next to Süleyman Demirel Science High School which was 1 km away to Edirne. Realizing that it was not a suitable place to make contact with migrants, we left that area.
After parking our vehicles in Karaağaç, we walked back to the area where we were kicked out of, and talked to the gendarme commander to bring our car back to the same spot again. But they did not allow us to do so claiming that there was a governor’s order in place. There were only the security forces and just a few migrants trying to reach the border. We managed to talk to the regional Coordinator for Migration Management over the phone and he said that they would take the soup and deliver it inside the checkpoint through AFAD (Governmental Humanitarian Organisaon) and Migration Management if we prepared it. But we declined the offer because for us the soup was a means of connecting, communicating and sharing space with the migrants, even if only briefly.
In the meantime, we got the information that there was a group of migrants waiting on the Edirne side of Tunca bridge, and we drove there to see the situation. From the end of the bridge, we could see around 200-300 migrants. Some of them were in tents and others were sitting on pieces of plastic, trying to keep themselves warm by a fire. We gathered that the situation was a possible act of provocation due to a very little police presence and to the fact that the area was inside the city. Indeed, just shortly after our arrival at the location, a fight broke out between the youngsters from Edirne and the migrants for reasons we could not quite understand. The group from Edirne, who were the aggressors, left the area after the police intervention.
There were migrants who had been waiting in that area for 4-5 days and there were also others who just came that day. After talking with the migrants, we decided that it was a suitable place to set up a kitchen. While we were there, we saw the police trying to force the migrants into the busses that would take them to Pazarkule.
When it started raining late at night, we once again witnessed how defenseless the migrants were without any shelters from such weather conditions. Although they subsequently took a shelter under the roof of the marketplace nearby, there was an urgent need for dry clothes as they were completely soaked wet in the rain. There was clearly no such structure to respond to these circumstances. We could merely share the plastic bags and covers we had. We observed the insufficiency and incapability of AFAD and the Migration Management.
The bus that our friend took from Istanbul in order to join our rotation was stopped by the police 40 kilometers to Edirne. Without an ID check, passengers who were “believed to be migrants” were ordered to get off the bus. Later we found out that they were transferred to Pazarkule by police in different buses.
After that interposition different police squads stopped the bus twice more, and by following the same procedure they made more people get off. The information we had received suggested that it was a common practice for all intercity busses, which was soon confirmed by people who arrived at the zone later on.
Day 6|| 5 March 2020
We are not anymore in Pazarkule. But we are still in touch with the people we got to know in Pazarkule in the first few days. In the village of Karaağaç we met a migrant friend of ours who we got to know earlier. He said they could get in and out the checkpoint in Pazarkule without any problems. Instead, he reported that the lack of toilets, hygiene concerns and 2km long lines for food were the main problems migrants had to deal with.
We received information that around Uzunköprü in the areas around the border villages, the Greek authorities were using force and sending the refugees back naked. We got to know that many people who crossed the border had their phones, money, shoes and sometimes clothes confiscated by the authorities. This is why we decided to move to Uzunköprü. It was 20:00 in the evening by then.
During our trip we got a call from our friends who had just arrived to Kiremitçisalih village on the shore of Meriç river and informed us that something was going on there. So we immediately changed our direction to join them there. While we were still on the way our friends called again and told us that TR Red Crescent (Kızılay) had arrived to the field to provide help and that they themselves were not given permission to be in the field by TR soldiers. We realised that if the Red Crescent hadn’t been given permission, we would also not be allowed to. The Red Crescent had entered the field and were giving out clothes and socks to the people before the authorities intervened.
When we arrived to the village square, we noticed two boats loaded onto a trailer. We had the chance to talk to the villagers. They told us that these were their own boats and that they use them to bring over migrants, sometimes for free and sometimes for 20-30 lira. The person who told us this stated that they are escorted by gendarmerie and other state authorities.
They also informed us that by the end of the day, hundreds of migrants had been retured from the Greek side beaten up and naked and that many ambulance cars left the area during the day. While we were on our way there we saw many buses in different sizes that came empty and left again full.
We found out that the migrants` rallying point was moved to the Turkuaz gas station in Uzunköprü and turned back to Uzunköprü. There were around 500 migrants without shoes and most of them had yellow socks that had been given out by the Red Crescent.
In the meantime we talked briefly with a person who said they were assigned to transport the migrants. They said it was a good way to prevent middlemen profiting from it and that it was a way the state could ensure a fixed price for the transportation of migrants. For example the way Edirne-Istanbul is now fixed at 60 TL. According to what we saw, in the first days this had been as high as 150 TL.
The same persons told us that after being pushed back from the Greek border, some migrants returned to Istanbul before heading to Edirne again. From there, they tried again many times to cross the border to Greece.
Unfortunately we were removed from the place by the gendarmerie who believed there was no need for our kitchen and that it would be better if we went to the city of Meriç. We had to leave the place before we were able to get in touch and establish connections with the migrants there.
There was no checkpoint on our way at first. But as soon as we arrived in Alibey village, a civil car stopped us and a person wearing a uniform told us that we had to leave the place immediately. At the place where we were stopped there were 2 blue taxis with 34- licence plates. These were not asked to leave the place. We think the person who told us to leave was a soldier. We were told by the villagers that our friends had been removed from Kiremitçisalih village the same way by another soldier.
As we had heard in the morning the bus station had been emptied of migrants. But when we arrived there at around 10 in the evening we found out that there were again a lot of migrants at the bus station. This makes us think that while people are being sent back from Greece, the number of new arrivals to Edirne is not decreasing.
After driving a long way, we finished the day at around 2 AM in a kind of park between the villages of Umurca and Masuhbey.
Day 7|| March 6, 2020
We went from Alibey village to the Turkuaz gas station in Uzunköprü, located at a 30 km distance from us. This is the place where the migrants who are sent back from the Greek side are sent to. But we were not allowed to stay here.
As far as we could see in a short time we could stay there, the number of migrants in the field had diminished in comparison with the last days. We can say that it was at most 100 persons. There was also a vehicle of the Turkish Red Cross in the field. Yesterday many civil Turkish citizens were helping here independently and unaffiliated to any organization at many points. But today there were not allowed to come here by infantry or gendarmerie.
We thought that it wouldn’t cause any problems if we went to the bus station where around 250-300 migrants were waiting as far as we knew. This is why we continued from Uzunköprü to Edirne bus station. At around 18:10, we witnessed that at the Havsa junction, there was a vehicle being checked, and the migrants had to get off the vehicle.
At around 16:30, when we were still on the way, we got a notice from a journalist friend of ours who was at a square at around 3km distance from the border in Pazarkule. He told us that 5-6 cars left the field and that there was a plan to empty the field. We called a refugee friend of ours in the field to tell him this information. He called us back a couple of hours later when he had made some examinations on the topic. He told us that he had talked to a police officer who had said to him that if they wanted, they would be transferred to Istanbul or another city and that they had to empty the field as soon as possible.
He told us that the ones who wanted to leave were brought out of the field with vehicles while at the same time rubber bullets and gas cartridges were continued to be thrown from the Greek side of the border. He said that in the buffer zone field, four of the five razor blade wire fences had been torn down and that they had moved till to the point where “Ellada” is written and right behind which Greek soldiers were standing. He told us that the meantime, Turkish soldiers were responding by throwing gas cartridges to the Greek side of the border. In the evening we met with him. He told us that they had been caught up between gas shootings from two sides and showed us photos and videos documenting this.
It was seven o`clock when we arrived at the bus station. We had thought that it was a good place to get in touch with some of the migrants since we knew that the bus station was still open for civilians. We parked our vehicle at a place the traffic police appointed to us. We put up our kitchen and started cooking. While our soup was on the stove, 4-5 policemen came and told us that food distribution had been forbidden by order of the prefecture and that we should pack our kitchen without making difficulties.
We tried to convince the police by telling them that we had cooked soup for 200 persons and we don’t want it to go to the waste. One of the police officers told us that he understood that we were well-intentioned but that before some of the people who had made food distribution had tried to poison the migrants and that this was the reason for the ban. The policemen gave us the advice to go to other places and try there.
Another policeman told us that many of the migrants had scabies and that if we got in touch with them, we had to wear gloves. The same policeman added later on, that there would soon be an intervention, that they would remove the migrants from this spot and send them to Istanbul and that we shouldn’t stay here, that it would be better for us to leave. In the meantime, we saw how journalists from Turkey and abroad did interviews with migrants.
Hereon we talked to some migrants without continuing our cooking activities. Of the people we spoke to, some had come from Kayseri, others from Giresun. A refugee from Afghanistan told us that he had sold everything he had to go here from Kayseri. Now he has been waiting here for five days, but due to the frightening news, he was afraid of going to the border and waiting here and that he was waiting here for Greek to open the border.
He told us that the state didn’t come there at all but that civil people came and helped them a lot. Another migrant woman with two children at the bus station told us that she had crossed to the Greek side of the border where her clothes were taken away, and she was beaten, and after that, she was sent back to Turkey. Now she was waiting here for the borders to open since she gave up everything she had by coming here and no place to go back. The motivation of the ones waiting at the bus station is generally not to go back to the places they came but to find an open way to Greece.
We went back to Karaağaç close to the Pazarkule border gate. We parked at around 2,5 km distance from the border. The sellers there who sell fruit, vegetables, eggs, etc. to the migrants told us that they expected the fights to be very violent today and tomorrow.
At around eight, we heard fightings and smoke coming up from the field. 1 km to the other direction towards the center, we set the table to serve the soup together with migrants who were walking towards the field. The soup that was left was filled into plastic cans so that migrants entering the field could bring it there.
At around 1 a.m., we got a message from our friends that the bus station was now empty and migrants had been removed from there.
After midnight we heard sounds of fightings and from time to time ambulance sirens.
Day 8|| 7 March 2020
Today, around noon, The Bridging Peoples Association arrived at Karaağaç. As they were not allowed to enter the area where the refugees are, they distributed approximately 150 packages composed of basic needs, on an earth road, which is about 1.5 km behind the Pazarkule border gate. On the other hand, we learned that just a few hours ago, the Yavuz Selim sect was able to make a distribution in a place that is slightly closer to the area where the refugees are.
Around the same time, we were chatting with two Algerian friends. They stated that they couldn’t reach France legally, and although it is possible to cross to Italy via Tunisia or from Algeria to Spain by sea, they found that risky. They are vulnerable to potential interferences. They started working a year ago when they first came to Turkey. They saved money to continue their journey with the first opportunity to cross the border. They immediately took action when the border gate was opened. Greek (GR) police caught them in one of the GR border villages, took their phone and money, and sent them back barefoot to Turkey.
They also state that a group from Afghanistan pulled a knife on them and seized their power banks. Even though it is not common, they say, it is possible to observe some small gangs coming into being. As they believe the opening of the borders is their last chance, they continue to stay in the area and push on for the borders. Many Syrians seem to act together in coordination with Iraqis and Ethiopians.
Around 13:00, we learned that the HDK team arriving from Istanbul was blocked when passing through the Tunca bridge. At first, they also were not allowed to continue on foot. After waiting for a while, as a result of the negotiations, they were able to enter Karaağaç on foot. However, both this team and The Bridging Peoples Association were followed and photographed by the police.
The weather is sunny. Karaağaç is one of the most popular places where people from Edirne spend their weekends. The place became a site of encounter for the people of Edirne who come to enjoy their time off and refugees who come to meet their needs. The police make a hard effort to prevent this encounter by blocking refugees from being in the public eye, sitting in cafes, and going in and out of checkpoints.
In the afternoon, a friend of ours sent a message and informed us that they had passed the Turquaz Oil Station in Uzunköprü, where there were more than two thousand refugees before, and that this place was now empty.
At 16:40, we met with our Iranian friends who came from the border area that we ourselves cannot enter. They stated thata red-colored gas is now being used in the ongoing attacks, which is more effective than the previous ones. However, our friends emphasize that they are now at a point of no return. They say that until today, they have done everything to establish a dialogue with Greek soldiers, announce what is happening on social media, spread the videos, but all these efforts remained inconclusive. So now they will do everything they can to cross the border.
Another one of our refugee friends happily says that they carried supplies that came from independent sources for two kilometers. As a result, in the area, there was a spread of positive energy and increased motivation. They say that they visited the families in the area one by one and distributed diapers according to needs.
On the other hand, as mentioned before, they add each day it’s getting more difficult for them to go to and return from Karaağaç. They state that they have to escape by crossing the barriers, and the military police chasing them is continuously swearing and even attacking them by throwing stones. Motorcycles continue to transfer those who can get out of the area, for 5 TL per person to the center of Karaağaç, which is 3 km away.
Day 9|| 8 March 2020
Today we learned that it had become even harder for the refugees to leave the designated area to come to Karaağaç. They are now only allowed to use the main checkpoint. They are also required to give fingerprints and accept bodily checks. The soldiers also take pictures of their eyes. As our friend told us, exits from the area started at 10 o’clock in the morning and went on during the day despite the long queues. Our friends waited two hours in the queue and only after that they reached Karaağaç. They were still in a positive mood when we met them there.
One of our migrant friends told us that while they were waiting in the queue a gendarmerie yelled at him saying ‘why are you laughing?’ He answered ‘I am not laughing at anything but why are you yelling?’ Then a higher officer took him to a corner and beat him. In an earlier conversation this very same friend told us that the soldiers were helping them to cross to Greece. They even gave them hooks and ropes to take down the last remaining fence in front of the border gate. Our friends often tell us about incidents of ill treatment by the same soldiers who ‘help’ them to cross to the Greek side.
We also learned that although independent aid organizations were not allowed in the fenced-off area, Yavuz Selim Association was given permission to enter and distribute aid. Our friends from the inside also told us that the Beşir Association had been present on the ground since the first day and they distributed blue clothing items today.
Our friends went back around 23.00 and reported that their finger prints were not taken when they re-entered.
Today we came across a Women’s Day demo in Edirne centre. Neither migrants, borders or the war were mentioned in the press release nor on the banners and posters; despite the existence of such a large group of migrant women just by the city.
Today we also had a chance to chat with refugee women. Our female friends who came from the zone told us about their experiences, stories and how they live through this as women. While we were filming, one of the women told us that she studied cinema for one year in Iran and offered to use the camera and do the shooting. We gave her the camera. Thanks to this, the women we were chatting with got to know each other and they were relieved because they spoke the same language.
They told us that in Turkey migrant women were ill approached particularly by men. Their common experience involved being sexually harassed by their bosses. They also mentioned that they had to work for very low wages, could not even get their salaries paid and they did not have any access to mechanisms that would guarantee their rights. They also did not have much solidarity from Turkish women. This lack of contact made them feel isolated. Two of these friends told us that although they had Masters degrees and appropriate expertise, they could only find unskilled work. A younger friend said that she wanted to continue with her education and it was not possible in Turkey. They also told us that their future seemed full of uncertainties but they still held the hope that they would be able to cross the border and realize their dreams. Despite all the hardships they had to endure, their only wish is to have an ordinary, quiet and safe life.
They told us that the conditions in Pazarkule are particularly harsh for women and children; that the sanitary and accommodation conditions were very bad. Women in the area (including themselves) would not go out of their tents often, because they did not feel safe. There have been incidents of sexual harassment and one woman managed to run away from people who tried to rape her.
On top of all these problems, the aggression from the Greek side is very tough. Our friends told us with much regret that last night (March 7) the intensity of teargas was really bad, and women with babies lacked protection. Another friend told us that the same night a mother with a baby in her arms took refuge in our friend’s make-shift nylon tent. The baby had difficulty breathing and the mother was waving a t-shirt to air out the tent. The baby was now fine, though.
When we asked about how the women in the area were interacting, they told us that a group of women visited tents to discuss about acting in unison. However there was not consensus because everybody had different motivations. Our friends said that they understood these women too because they all were in a struggle for themselves and their children and they would do anything to win this struggle.
When we chatted about Women’s Day, they emphasized that their expectation from all women was that women would not discriminate against them. They also expect solidarity between women without any reservations on the basis of language, religion and nationality. Their wish for all women in the world is to live in equality and freedom. We also learned that some women organized a Women’s Day demo in the area. There is need for more activity directed towards women and other vulnerable groups in the area.
We also think that sharing our experience in coordination would be useful for new initiatives:
-Our chat with female migrant friends today reminded us of the importance of maintaining gender equality in our work.
– All newcomers need an orientation about what has been going on here and the material conditions. Short visits barely allow one to get used to the field, but longer stays are emotionally and physically very tiring.
-Therefore, we prioritize groups that can stay between 2-5 days. We can manage our activities in groups of 2-5 people. More people are not necessary and larger groups increase the risk of facing interference from officials. If people want to be in the field and commit time and labour, there are plenty of political and practical arenas to contribute to. We have at the moment a pool of volunteers that would be enough to do rotations in the coming weeks. If we need further volunteers, we will issue a call again.
Day 10|| 9 March 2020
Our migrant friends who we have been in conversation with have reported the use of plastic bullets and mentioned that there are injured people inside. One of the injured migrants was present in the conversation and said “We are going to pass the border or die. But please do not leave the rest alone.”
They also reported the abuse by the police forces on them and mentioned that this escalates after the working hours of the employees for various humanitarian aid institutions such as IOM, UNHCR and ASAM. The abuse often means that the migrants are not allowed to sit on the floor while waiting in the queue, electric nightsticks are used and as a result women do not leave their tents often out of fear.
There are 30 toilet cabins for women and 30 for men. It has been reported that there are as many as 15,000 people inside, 4000 of which are women. Nobody has been allowed to bring tents inside, although they have allowed materials such as plastic to be brought in to make makeshift tents. For the first time, they have handed out sleeping mats inside, but so far, only a thousand have been given. Tonight, the temperature dropped to 6-8°C.
According to what has been reported, 7 have died in the field, although the official number remains at 3. There is a woman who is in her last trimester of her pregnancy who said “hopefully, my child is going to be born in Europe.”
According to our friend who works for the commission of migrant rights of Edirne Body of Lawyers, 90 cases have been opened in Edirne city centre and the surrounding villages of Ipsala, Meric and Enez against the actions of the Greek authorities –including the repartition, injuries, deaths and other forms of violation of peoples’ rights.
We have also learnt that the Migration Management (DGMM) have contacted lawyers in Istanbul, Ankara and Edirne to bring the case of violence of human rights by Greece to European Court of Human Rights.
Some of the migrants that stayed close to the border for a while have returned to Denizli where they are registered. It was reported that due to their attempts to cross the border, their demands for international protection were not accepted and they may lose their temporary protection status in Turkey. However, the Migration Management responded to this by saying that they do not have such a policy to accept as withdrawn the demands of the migrants that return. The uncertainty on this subject is one of the biggest concerns the migrants here face.
Compared to the earlier days, the number of arrivals/returns have significantly dropped. Those who wanted to go out were being prevented from doing so since the evening. They then opened the doors at 19.00 saying that it would only remain open for an hour. Suddenly, there was a big crowd in the center of Karaagac.
The villagers of Karaagac share partially their shops and their facilities with the migrants. Several phones are being charged in almost every plug socket. However, despite this, we are beginning to observe an increase in racist discourse against the migrants.
The issue has turned into another crisis for the farmers. Normally, the time for harvesting and seeding is now but at the moment it is impossible for them to access their fields while the camping site continues.
We entered a coffee shop, and the people who did not know us tried to remove us and cried “ Police, police, problem!” When we started to speak Turkish, they accepted our presence in the shop and gave a red-faced apology by explaining “we thought you were migrants.” They serve the locals in proper glasses while they serve the migrants in take-away paper glasses. They claim that this is the demand of the customers. The shop-owner was speculating that the migrants: “Have money for now, that’s all right. But what will happen when they do not have money in the times to come?” We were warned against the risk that migrants might steal. The concerns are often voiced in the forms of questions such as “Is this field going to be turned into a concentration camp, or is it going to be evacuated? Are we going to be stuck with these people?”
Motorcycle policemen continuously go around the shops and prevent the migrants from sitting down.
There is also the beginning of a new economy based on unfair, inflated prices. At the moment, the migrants are charged 5 liras for their transportation from the migrant camp to the center of the village by horse-drawn vehicles; a square metre of plastic is sold for as much as 20 liras. For the reasons of comparison, we would like to inform that we bought plastic for a price of 24 liras for 50 meters square.
Day 11|| 10 March 2020
In the early morning, there was a crowd of migrants gathering in Karaağaç Square. There was a long queue of people waiting for the market to open. In the pastry shop, all the shelves were empty and the daily bakery supplies were already exhausted. After observing the situation, we started to get to know the people in the square.
In the village, some of the houses offer migrants to have a shower for 15 liras. In the coffee house where we were able to charge our phones and have a discussion, there were many migrant women. Suddenly, a person in a mask and special uniform came in and started spraying belongings of the migrants with disinfectant whilst reassuring them, saying “It’s harmless, harmless”.
In the square in front of the coffee house, the civil police were checking the people’s IDs. A migrant friend whom we were talking to at that time pointed at the journalists who were being questioned by the police and said, “The lives of many refugees are being ruined. They don’t give any news. There’s only TRT, ATV and the Anatolian Agency inside”. The police presence and the number of security in the village increased during the day. Our vehicles were also checked by police.
The river separates the village of Karağaç from the Edirne city center. The bridge just before the village is the first checkpoint of the camp along the border. The police stop all the vehicles passing here to check if there are migrants inside, and if they find any they ask them to get off the car. There was mixed information about the situation of the migrant groups held here. We heard that some of them were taken to the crossing points, while others were directly to the camp without allowing them to go into the Karaapaç village. We learned that a group of 100 people were waiting in Edirne city center to reach the camp side. It was said that busses that got to the checkpoint here take these people to Uzunköprü.
We also heard that someone who was travelling to Istanbul from Edirne yesterday in his own car had been stopped at the police station and asked to take a migrant to Istanbul with him. We learned that the police were taking those heading to the border before Pazarkule. However, the information about what happens to them varies and nothing has been confirmed at this point. In almost every matter, uncertainty has become the law of this place.
A friend from Istanbul who was take a shift for our regular rotation told us that the bus had been stopped at the junction in Havsa. According to this friend, there were a few Afghan teens and two civil police officers on the bus; before reaching the junction, both the police and the migrants were told to be prepared by the deputy, and when the bus was stopped, the Afghans were asked to get off the bus and join the other group of migrants who had been kept waiting outside. However, our friends who came the same way yesterday using the same bus company had not been stopped at the checkpoint.
We also heard from a taxi driver that the police had made intimidating warnings at the taxi and minibus terminals in Edirne saying, “do not pick up the immigrants, it is a crime and the punishment is heavy”. Our observations and the conversations we had at the terminals have confirmed this.
At eleven o’clock in the evening, we saw a group of around twenty immigrants coming together with their bags from the backstreets of Karaağaç in the direction of the border. We went out of the cars hoping to have a small chat with them. For the last few days we had not seen any migrants entering the village because the vehicles had been stopped at the checkpoint at the entrance of Karağaç and the migrants had not been allowed to enter the village. They told us that they were not allowed to go inside the camp and were looking for a place to stay for the night. They left shortly afterwards.
Day 12|| 11 March 2020
The morning was as cold as the night before. Around 8:30a.m. we heard sounds coming from the border, which we figured were either gunshots or sound bombs though we could not identify exactly. The number of migrants in the village center was less than that of the previous days. We heard that those who left the camp yesterday were not allowed to leave there today. Nonetheless those who wanted to leave the camp had started to form a queue around 5 a.m.
There were new measures enforced by police today; those cafes where migrants went to charge their phones were strictly checked, and the exterior power switches in some shops were even turned off. As a result, it is getting more difficult for them to get information outside the site as their means of communication are now severely restricted.
In Karaagac, the police was as much present as yesterday. It also seemed clear that the locals were getting fed up with the whole situation. We heard such reactions as “Why did they bring these people here? Isn’t it a pity?”. Around 6:30 p.m. we heard the sounds of gunshots again from the border. We were quite concerned this time as they were more intense than before. Our friends inside the site told us that Greek police were using plastic bullets, tear gas and sound bombs as well as an armed vehicle which was pushing back migrants and that they were effectively directing the tear gas towards the migrants with the strong wind on the site. A group of representatives from several bar associations and law societies was also barred from entering the site. Their applications to the Governor’s office were rejected. Only the presidents of the bar associations were allowed to go inside the site. The delegation later held a press conference at the control
Day 13|| 12 March 2020
Today, Karaağaç was a little busier than the previous days. The migrants, who gave their fingerprints to the authority and left the border area, were lining up at the A101 supermarket to do their shopping for the day. Some of them went and tried to charge their phones in nearby cafes but without success.
As far as we understand, migrants in the border area are only allowed to go out of the area once or twice a week. When they leave, their fingerprints are checked and if it is confirmed that they have already left the area the day before, they will not be allowed to leave on that day.
It also seems clear that new migrants have not been taken to Pazarkule for the last 3-4 days. Stories suggest that people who try to come to this area are stopped at the checkpoints and are instructed to go to Uzunköprü and Ipsala. We do not know if this is a way of creating another gathering area or rather of encouraging migrants to cross the border through Meriç river. It is also possible that they are sent back to Istanbul directly. We heard that those who are in the camp area and want to return to Istanbul were moved back to Istanbul free of charge by bus provided by Migration Administration and that more and more people had started to return in this way recently. But how migrants who consumed all their resources during the waiting time at the border will return to their previous places after being dropped in Istanbul is another question.
From inside the camp, we got the news that a refugee friend had been beaten by the gendarmerie for no reason. Also, as we have learned from different sources, there are many unaccompanied girls and boys in the camp area.
It is often mentioned that there is not much improvement in terms of health and hygiene conditions inside the camp. We heard that the medical team in the area only intervenes when someone is injured or heavily affected by gas, or in case of emergency, and that most of the migrants are not aware of the existence of this team at all. We were told that since water, which is supplied by tanker, is not drinking water quality, there are increasingly severe health issues among the people in the area. It is reported that especially children are suffering from diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
A group of our friends went to the Bulgarian border during the day and observed that there was no activity or unusual security measure on the other side of the border with Greece.
Another friend reported that two refugees had reached Edirne in muddy clothes after having their money taken and being pushed back from the border by Greek police.
Day 14|| 13 March 2020
There were very few immigrants in Karaağaç today. In addition to the day restriction for migrants, we learnt that no more than 200 people will be allowed to leave the border area (the side where they’ve been kept)* per day.
We are following the increasing coronavirus panic across the country. However, the health problems arising in the area where the immigrants are staying are mostly caused by pre-existing conditions, such as insufficient shelter and poor hygiene conditions, difficulties in accessing food and drinking water and the police interventions made with gas and plastic bullets. It is not possible (for now) to claim that coronavirus or health problems related to coronavirus are becoming widespread. Providing regular and adequate health services to the residents was a requirement from the very beginning. But we haven’t observed a situation which would cause panic about the spread of the virus among local people or the migrants. We can only observe that, since yesterday, some of the people working in the cafes which migrants frequent are now wearing gloves or offering cologne as a precaution.
There are checkpoints at the end of the town (Karaağaç) and on the roads which lead up to the Pazarkule border gate. No one can pass through the checkpoints, except for the migrants and “people on duty” or local people who own fields beyond the checkpoints. Journalists (other than TRT and Anadolu Agency) who are reporting on the situation in the region can only come close to these points at best. We can only observe the situation outside of this broad security ring which surrounds the border area and the military zone where the migrants are staying. From this distance, the only way to understand where the border is and where the migrants are located is from the smoke created by the tear gas fired by Greek police.
Everyday life in the town is actually quite normal. The only difference noticeable in the town’s routine is the migrants who come to the town at certain times of the day to charge their phones or shop. Otherwise, it would be impossible to guess that there are thousands of people at the border just beyond the town settlements. It is also not possible to judge whether there has been a sudden change in the border region as a result of this new normality.
The police continue to threaten shopkeepers by closing their shops and fining them if they allow migrants to charge their phones. Thus, migrants’ ability to communicate with the outside world is getting harder and they are becoming more and more disconnected.
Day 15|| 14 March 2020
Translation not available, see Turkish version.
Day 16|| 15 March 2020
We started the day by passing Uzunköprü Turkuaz gas station. There were around 80-100 migrants waiting by the car-wash section of the station. We learnt that they had been pushed back from Greece. There were some buses waiting to transport those who wanted to return to Istanbul. An officer was trying to convince them to take seats on the bus, while another two health officers were distributing clean and dry clothes.
Our next stop was the village of Kiremitçisalih, which is located 10km from Uzunköprü. There were around 20 migrants waiting in the main square of the village to cross to Greece. Among three of the Moroccan migrants we spoke to, one had tried to reach Spain a few months ago by crossing Gibraltar but had been caught and imprisoned for 3.5 months for border infringement. Upon his release, he heard that Turkey had opened their borders so he took the first flight from Casablanca to Istanbul and arrived at this village.
5km after Kiremitçisalih, we arrived at Kurdu village. The villagers told us ‘there are no migrants here, you better check the next village’.
In the village of Gemici the keeper of the coffeehouse, who was said to be the village guard, told us that they had been forbidden to give us any information on this issue by an order released by the governorship. While we were setting off to the next village we saw a group of five migrants walking from the direction of the border towards the center of the village. When we tried to approach them the village guard came out of the coffeehouse and shouted at us to prevent us from speaking with the group. Each of the migrants was wearing the same type of raincoat. We left the village as they were passing the bus station of the village and had begun to wait hopelessly.
The residents of the next village, Akçadam, informed us that there were no migrant crossings there. They advised us to check the next villages in the direction of Ipsala.
The villagers of Serem also did not want to communicate with us, again mentioning the prohibition ordered by the governorship. They claimed that the state had nothing to do with this and that the migrants were crossing through personal efforts alone.
In the main square of Karayusuflu we met two people who had just arrived there because of closures due to corona virus. Although they had not been living in their recently village, both said that the migration movement is not new, that it has always been an issue for the village due to its proximity to the border, but that it has become more visible with the latest developments.
Another youngster we came across in the village coffeehouse told us they’d kept the coffeehouse open on the first night when there was an intense flow of people. There were two large rubber boats in the parking space across from the coffeehouse where we were talking. They said that the boats had been brought by the gendarmerie.
They told us another interesting story about a villager who had been caught and detained by the Turkish military two weeks ago while transporting migrants to Greece. Only a day after this event, the Turkish side of the border was opened and the same soldiers came to the village, this time to ask people to support the crossing migrants. The villagers also talked about the push-backs from the Greek side and how the men who had been pushed-back had been stripped and beaten, and some of the women had been raped. All of the villagers we spoke with told us that the migrants harmed neither them nor their crops, so they had no complaints.
Day 17|| 16 March 2020
The police who stopped our vehicle at the entrance to Ipsala asked if there were any migrants in the car. There was no sign of any migrants in the town. The very nearby Greek border crossing was actively working. The customs officers we spoke to said there was no disruption at the Land Gate.
The villagers we spoke to in the village of Balabancık stated that although this was an active transit point in the first days, the migrants who were here were transported by buses to nearby villages and there were no more migrants in the village.
When we stopped at the Adasarhanli village square, 4km from the border with Greece, we started talking to the first villagers we met, and soon one of them suggested we talk to the village mayor. The village mayor said there were no complaints from the migrants, in total about 5 thousand migrants passed through their villages and 500 people were pushed back, those pushed back by Greece and reached the village were beaten, some had their arms and legs broken. They were able to accommodate 200-300 people at the same time in the wedding hall of the village, and because there were no more migrants, some of the increased food supplies that had come for the migrants went stale.
The people we tried to contact in the village of Küplü refused to talk to us
The villagers we were able to talk to in the village of Subaşı said that the issue of migrants in their villages was not new and that they had lived with this reality for 30 years. They said Greece had confiscated a fisherman’s boat.
Kadidondurma village is 4-5km away from the border. The villagers we spoke to said that they did not see any harm to the migrants, but that these passes were of great economic benefit to the villagers who had cars and boats. The migrants in the village were rounded up and taken to Alibey village.
The Village Mayor we spoke to in the village of Umurca and the elderly villagers around him, were very emotionally affected by the situation of the migrants during the recent migrant crossings. They were constantly making statements of compassion. One of the villagers we spoke to said, ‘the other day I looked at five people sitting on the edge of my field, my corn had been plucked and cooked. When I went to them, they offered me some of my corn. What should these poor people do, they have no good to themselves, they want to go anyway, what harm can they do to us’ he asked.
Nasuhbey village is only 500 metres from the border. Fishing is intense. There have been migrants passing through the village but there are currently no migrant populations. The boatmen in the village, with the support of the gendarmerie, carried many migrants to Greece. The Greek military was too harsh and even opened fire and smashed one of the boats.
Alibey village is a point where scattered migrants gathered from nearby villages are brought in. It was conveyed to us that there are about 200 migrants present in the sizeable, white tent seen at the entrance to the village. One of the villagers we spoke to was referring to the passage to Greece “we just ‘threw’ 80-90 people over across there this morning’.
On the other hand, being forced to live with structural deprivation and limited resources for a long time increases the tension among the migrants at the Pazarkule campsite. Today, our friends in the concentration camp in Elm said that a fight broke out between different groups of migrants who had been in the food queue around 5,30 in the morning and that this tension grew and turned into clashes in the evening.
We received information that ambulances arrived in the area following many injuries during these clashes and that as many as 250 law enforcement vehicles entered the area after the wounded were taken away and the conflict calmed down.
Seven buses carrying those returning to Istanbul had left the area during the day..
Since the previous night, four or five migrant women have staged a protest by lying in front of razor-wire wires between Greece and Turkey, demanding that the gates be opened despite heavy rain and cold.
Some of our migrant friends at the campsite said that as the changing weather conditions, the increasing cold and heavy rain made housing conditions increasingly difficult, many migrants wanted to leave the campsite and return to their places of residence. On the other hand, they also said that a feeling like “we cross this border or we die” is widespread, that they have raised hopes to unfounded news going around on the site, such as a bus to Germany being organized, by developing belief despite those being lies, that they know that there are still thousands of people waiting outside the Pazarkule gate to enter the area, and that hope is still maintained despite everything.
“We are people, we are immigrants. These events can happen to any person. We ran away from the troubles that everyone could experience in their hometown. We’re not a nuisance ourselves. Do not forget us. Talk about us. No one gives us hope. We give ourselves hope”
While the uncertainty caused by the failure of any information about their fate increases the migrant fatigue, they complain that the migrant issue is falling off the agenda and being overshadowed.Those who leave the field, go to cafes to charge phones but if they are seen by police charging multiple phones they are beaten and thrown out of cafes.
Day 18|| 17 March 2020
Not only migrants were not allowed to leave the campsite today, but
all cafes in Karaağaç were also closed as well. We have learned from our
refugee friends in the area that about 300 Special Operations Officers
have entered the area, announcements were made that the authorities will
evacuate the area by tomorrow, under the pretext of the corona
suspicion, and that tonight will be the last day. On the other hand,
there are rumors that migrants with papers will be sent to cities where
they came from by free buses, while those without papers will be sent to
Kilis. We learned that the buses entering the area were on their way to
Istanbul with especially Syrians on them. Our friend in the field said
that the rest of us are waiting for the EU-TR summit to be held today
and that they are keeping their hopes, that many people have no
intention of returning, and that the idea of “either we go through this
door or we die” is still widespread.
He said that after the clashes in the camp yesterday, the police separated Syrians, Iraqis and Somalis as one group and Afghans, Iranians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as another by forming a corridor, and the gendarmerie refused to allow crossings between the two group areas.
During the day, we learned that the duration of assistance provided by UNICEF was shortened to only between 10.30 and 14.00. Furthermore, The Gendarmerie’s underwater search team was also said to have arrived at the site yesterday, raising suspicions that there may have been possible migrant deaths in Meric.
Our migrant friends said they couldn’t charge their phones because they couldn’t get out of the campsite, their powerbanks had run out of batteries, and after a while, they could be completely disconnected from the outside. They also expressed concern that conflict was possible between different groups of migrants within the area.
Day 19|| 18 March 2020
We found out that some immigrant friends were taken to the
Immigration Administration that is 4-5 km’s away from the region
they’ve been held on the border. In addition, some of our friends who
tried to partially meet the needs of the immigrants by taking civil
initiative in the region stated that the immigrants taken to the
Immigration Administration did not have any money left and asked for
support to meet their water and food needs. According to the statements
of our friends in the field, there were a group of 90 people and kept
under the Immigration Administration without meeting basic needs. Our
friend, who wants to deliver the aid, was directed to the AFAD located
just behind the building in the Immigration Administration. Our friend
stated that there are quite a few supplies in the AFAD warehouse.
According to what we have learned, food distribution has been
restricted in the camp area where refugees are located; it is said that
only women are given food. The gendarmerie (jandarma) made an
announcement that the area will be evacuated by Friday.
Our friends said that the area to distribute food is now converted to a bus parking area where they announce various cities of Turkey (Ankara, Konya, Kocaeli-İzmit, İstanbul, Kütahya, Afyon, Bursa) with a megaphone and the busses are leaving the area as they fill and new empty busses arrive.
Among the information conveyed to us that the busses which are kept
alongside the Immigration Administration are called to the camp site if
needed and that they take the migrants to the city they want for free.
An immigrant friend from the area reported that three people tried to cross the river, two of them returned but one was missing and the gerdarmerie teams continue their searches.
It is still said that the busses keep transporting registered migrants to the provinces they are registered and they take the people who are not registered to Kilis. In addition, many people who have lived in Istanbul or people who dont have any place to return because they disbanded their home in the city they were living in are also moving to Istanbul. However, it is not clear depending what this distinction is arranged. It is obvious; which cities people will be taken can be decided based on their statements or it might cause some problems if it is decided according to their documents. Because we know that it is not possible to show documents for some of them since they’ve lost their documents during the attempts of crossing or push backs.
The people who were taken to Istanbul were usually taken to Esenler bus station but we found out some people were left around Aksaray. People who were left near Esenler bus station started to accumulate in different points of the bus station under the rain and there are no institutions or structures that will inform these people, direct them to relevant institutions for their health and housing needs or help them purchasing tickets to reach their previous cities. In this crisis situation in Esenler, 2-3 of our friends took initiative to help until late hours.
Day 20|| 19 March 2020
Since the rotation we carried out in the border region is no longer possible we have been able to convey information about Pazarkule from the migrant friends present there over the past few days. While migrants are being carried to various cities, arrivals to Esenler bus station continues. Meanwhile the people who are still at Pazarkule can’t even meet their basic needs. We learn that one of the women who was on the last days of her pregnancy was carried to a hospital with the help of civil initiatives and gave birth at 4 am.
Even though the authorized people at Pazarkule say the migrants leaving the region with busses were informed about the places they are going, migrants who are arriving to Istanbul has no idea about where to go or how to register. Some of the migrants heard that they would be given 300 Turkish Liras when they arrive to Istanbul but that is not true.
Even though there are arrivals to Esenler bus station for days and it is on the media now there still isnt any institution to inform and direct people arriving. We tried to push non-governmental organizations, municipalities and various public institutions to meet the needs in places where immigrants were left during the day. When we reached out to one of the NGO’s that coordinated the situation at the border they told us their crews stoped by the bus station and checked on the situation but our friends who were at the bus station for two days inform us that this wasnt true. On the contrary, these friends who have taken civil initiative in the area, transfer the identity information of immigrants registered in different provinces to UNHCR and mediate the provision of return tickets. There is no help available for the unregistered migrants, in this situation they are forced to find a place to go by themselves or go to a nearby city to get registered. However, it is doubtful to what extent the migration management offices in these provinces continue their services due to the corona virus. Due to corona virus, many NGOs are also unable to direct their existing capacity to Esenler bus station or avoid directing their employees there not to take this risk. There is a lack of coordination among the public and non-govermental organizations that needs to be taking the responsabilty. As a result, the situation of immigrants is ignored as much as possible behind the corona virus agenda.
We have learned that the municipality has entered Esenler and a hall has been opened for temporary accommodation of immigrants, so heaters and various supplies have been provided to the hall.
Day 21|| 20-21 March 2020
Returns to Istanbul and other cities fo Turkey continue from Pazarkule. We don’t know how many buses left from the border up to now but it is said 3 to 5 thousand immigrants are still in the region. Some of the buses that leave the area takes some of the migrants to the city they were living before. But a lot of people are sent to Istanbul because it is close to the city they used to live or there arent enough people that are registered to the cities they are living to fill a bus. Among the ones that arrive to Istanbul, there are people who disbanded everything they had and now have nowhere to go so they dont know what to do.
While immigrants were sent back by buses, a pair of shoes and 50 Turkish Lira per person were given to those in need. To those who need to go to a different city after Istanbul were given a “travel permit” on a simple sheet of paper that is valid for two days with the stamp of Immigration Administration. Some bus firms doubt these papers are real, they dont want to carry the migrants because some firms assume the migrants wouldn’t have necessary papers and some say ‘they smell’ with a racist attitude.
We know the buses which carry the migrants to Istanbul were set by Immigration Administration. But probably because they dont have tourism transport document these buses leave the people not in the station but somewhere nearby. That’s why it is possible to find immigrants who wonder around not knowing where to go in Esenler bus station. The families who were brought to Istanbul might even have to spend the night somewhere around the bus station. For the last 2-3 days about 100 people that needed to go to different cities had to keep on moving on their own or with the help of volunteers.
Returns were highly supported since last Thursday. Even though the return of the immigrants were/are highly supported, we see that the institutions responsible for this issue do nothing to ensure that people can safely return to their lives they left in healthy conditions. Immigrants are left to different places randomly. While leaving the border area they are not informed in any way. Therefore immigrants ask how to find a job or a house to everyone they meet at the places they arrive.
We know there are still a lot of people waiting at the border. Distribution of food and various needs is still minimal. Fortunately, contrary to what is said, no force was used to empty the border area. It is also said that people who have various health and medicine needs have had difficulties in obtaining them recently and that a fainted person has not been sent to the hospital by the authorities.