Knocking on the gates of Europe grows louder
Kathimerini travels to Edirne on the Turkish-Greek border, where thousands of refugees and migrants are waiting to cross by land
EDIRNE/EVROS – Caught up in the party atmosphere, the people of Edirne were counting down the days to the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. On the main promenade in the downtown area, well-dressed passers-by took photographs, young women shopped for scarves and street peddlers sold Turkish flags. Just a few meters away, however, a completely different crowd was trying to get its message across.
Hundreds of refugees and migrants were protesting at Ilhan Koman Park. They held their babies and children aloft and shouted, in unison, “Germany, Germany!” and “Greece, Greece!” One of them held a placard reading “We love Merkel,” referring to the German chancellor.
The protest, which began in mid-September, had already been going on for a week. Responding to a call on Facebook via the Crossing No More community, thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians had made the almost 250-kilometer trip from Istanbul to Edirne, the last stop, 9 kilometers from the land border with Greece’s Evros region. Some traveled from refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon when they heard of the campaign. The key demand was for the gateway to Europe to open so they wouldn’t have to turn to the smugglers in Izmir and Bodrum and take their chances with the “boats of death.”
“We heard that this was the cheapest and a safe way to cross into Europe,” said 26-year-old Syrian Serhan Elafi, who traveled to Edirne from Lebanon. “If they don’t allow us through, they are leading us to the smugglers, who will send us to sea, take our money or drown us.”
The protest movement caused concern on the Greek side. More patrol vehicles were dispatched to Evros and locations on the border around the town of Orestiada were buttressed with more police. The customs officials at Kastanies were worried about developments. “If one passes the gate, thousands will follow,” one of the officers told Kathimerini, declining to give his name.
Hundreds of refugees and migrants protest at Ilhan Koman Park in Edirne, holding babies and children aloft.
Syrians walk toward the Greek border, near Edirne in Turkey. The flow to the border is almost constant.