Loop­hole in EU-Tur­key deal draws mi­grants to river cross­ing

For­mi­da­ble sight for mi­grants

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

This time of year, the Evros river runs broad and icy, its banks muddy and re­mote. It’s a for­mi­da­ble sight for mi­grants reach­ing Tur­key’s land bor­der with Greece, but not for­mi­da­ble enough to stop peo­ple who have al­ready come so far in their bid to make it to a new life in Europe. “It was hor­ri­bly cold,” said Kevin Mo­hamadi, 37, an Ira­nian who said he crossed the river af­ter pay­ing smugglers. “We were a group of 16, in­clud­ing Afghan fam­i­lies with four chil­dren each, and crossed in two boat­loads. Then we had to walk through forests for four hours, to avoid be­ing caught.”

A year af­ter the un­con­trolled in­flux of more than 1 mil­lion refugees and eco­nomic mi­grants to debt-hob­bled Greece, this bor­der re­gion is again see­ing rising flows of mi­grants. It’s largely due to a le­gal loop­hole: re­stric­tions im­posed in March to curb new ar­rivals by sea in the Greek is­lands don’t ap­ply to the land bor­der.

That means that any­one en­ter­ing here is far ahead of is­land ar­rivals in the queue for refugee re­lo­ca­tion to other Euro­pean coun­tries, and those who do not qual­ify for asy­lum could even be spared de­por­ta­tion that they would other­wise face un­der the deal be­tween the Euro­pean Union and Tur­key.

Dis­com­fort and dan­ger

Also, de­spite the river cross­ing, the dis­com­fort and dan­ger pales when com­pared with the sea journey to the is­lands. “The refugees usu­ally cross in boats,” said Pana­gi­o­tis Age­ladarakis, mayor of the bor­der vil­lage of Amorio, about 1.5 kilo­me­ters (just un­der a mile) from the river. “At its widest the river is about 150 me­ters across, but there are nar­rower points, and Turks ferry them over . ... Then they walk to our vil­lages. It’s a reg­u­lar sight.”

Figures on ar­rivals here are far from com­plete. The only statis­tics re­leased are of peo­ple who are caught with the smugglers they pay to ferry them over the Evros, which runs along most of the 180kilo­me­ter (110-mile) bor­der. There is no in­for­ma­tion on mi­grants who make it across with­out the help of smugglers, nor for those who are smug­gled suc­cess­fully across and taken fur­ther into Greece or else­where in Europe.

But even the few num­bers that do ex­ist show a rapid up­ward trend. About 655 peo­ple - largely Syr­i­ans - were ar­rested with 33 smugglers in October, double the figure for Septem­ber.

A po­lice of­fi­cial also told The As­so­ci­ated Press that Greek au­thor­i­ties are de­ter­ring about 4,000 peo­ple a month from com­ing over by driv­ing pa­trol cars to the Greek side of the river when they see a group of mi­grants about to cross, or call­ing Turk­ish of­fi­cials to pick them up. That’s nearly three times the num­ber seen in an av­er­age sum­mer month, even though the cross­ing is much eas­ier then be­cause low wa­ter lev­els make it pos­si­ble to wade across the river.

Mi­grants seek­ing to be in­cluded in EU plans to re­lo­cate them to other Euro­pean Union coun­tries of­ten im­me­di­ately hand them­selves over to po­lice and start their asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tion process. Age­ladarakis said they usu­ally ar­rive early in the morn­ings. “They come here to the cof­fee shop and ask us to call the po­lice,” he said.

Oth­ers, though, aim to go much fur­ther. Po­lice say they pay smug­gling gangs 2,000-2,200 Eu­ros ($2,100-2,300) each to be taken over the river and then driven in small trucks or cars to the north­ern city of Thes­sa­loniki, or the capital, Athens, 1,000 kilo­me­ters (600 miles) to the south­west. Once there, they can ap­ply for re­lo­ca­tion - or pay to be spir­ited through the sealed Balkan borders, or for a forged pass­port and a plane ticket to any­where in Europe.

Peo­ple who cross on their own seek tem­po­rary shel­ter. Their tran­sit is marked in a dis­used farm ware­house close to the rail­way sta­tion in the town of Didymoteicho, where flak­ing brick walls are black­ened by fires lit to cheat sub-zero tem­per­a­tures, and dis­carded cloth­ing, soiled di­a­pers, wornout shoes and tooth­brushes lit­ter the floor.

Paschalis Syri­toudis, po­lice chief in the nearby town of Ores­ti­ada, said peo­ple from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, So­ma­lia or Myan­mar are au­to­mat­i­cally treated as refugees, and Syr­i­ans and Iraqis get doc­u­ments that al­low them to join the lengthy re­lo­ca­tion process. “All other mi­grants are ar­rested and de­tained ... and if they don’t request asy­lum the de­por­ta­tion pro­ce­dure starts.”

But max­i­mum de­ten­tion is six months, af­ter which if the mi­grants haven’t been de­ported - and coun­tries such as Pakistan rou­tinely block de­por­ta­tion re­quests - they are freed.

The figures for peo­ple pass­ing through here are still low com­pared with those us­ing the is­land route. Around 170,000 peo­ple have used that so far this year - but the vast ma­jor­ity be­fore the Aegean is­land re­stric­tions kicked in.

Un­der the March EU-Tur­key deal - which, com­bined with Balkan bor­der clo­sures, slowed the mi­gra­tory in­flux to a trickle - mi­grants ar­riv­ing on the is­lands must be de­ported back to Tur­key, even if they are bona fide refugees. To stay in Greece, they must prove not only that they merit asy­lum, but that there is a good rea­son for their not be­ing granted asy­lum in Tur­key. — AP

CALAIS, north­ern France: Trucks drive past a 4 meter high (13 foot high) wall along the high­way lead­ing to the Calais port yes­ter­day. — AP

FYLAKIO, Greece: In this photo taken on Sun­day, Dec 4, 2016 mi­grants who were ar­rested af­ter cross­ing il­le­gally from Tur­key to Greece, stand be­hind a fence at a de­ten­tion cen­ter at the Greek-Turk­ish bor­der. — AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.