Thousands of migrants, most of them from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, have rushed to the border separating Turkey and Greece after the Turkish government announced on February 28 that it would no longer stop migrants from crossing into Europe. Our team spoke to migrants trapped at the border who describe difficult living conditions and violent Greek border guards.

Some of the migrants trapped at the border crossing in Pazarkule have been posting on social media about their attempts to cross the River Meriç, which separates Greece and Turkey. Their videos show young men and families with children living in rough conditions in nearby fields. Several migrants who tried to cross the border at this location told our journalists that many people were sleeping under little more than plastic tarps and keeping warm by small campfires.
Our team put together this compilation of videos filmed by migrants living near the Pazarkule border post. Most of these videos were posted on TikTok.

 

"We burn wood every night to keep warm”

Sasan (not his real name) is a 32-year-old man from Iran who has been living in Turkey for the past four years. He was studying for a masters in the town of Kayseri, which is about 1,000 kilometres from Pazarkule, when he decided to try to make the journey to Europe. He wanted to remain anonymous for fear that speaking to the media could jeopardize his immigration status in Turkey.
 
When the Turkish government announced that they would open the borders, I didn’t hesitate. I was living in Kayseri with family and a few friends. A group of 17 of us chartered a dolmus [Editor’s note: a minibus that serves as a group taxi] for 250 Turkish pounds per person (equivalent to around €36).

We brought tents with us, and we gather wood to make small fires every night. The Turkish government does distribute food, but it isn’t enough, and you have to queue for hours to get anything, so we make trips into neighboring towns and villages to get supplies.


A Syrian migrant named Mahmoud made this video to show our team where he sleeps every night.

 

"The babies cry all the time”

Originally from Afghanistan, Muhittin is 21 years old. He spent three days in Pazarkule trying to cross the border before giving up and returning to Istanbul where he works as a waiter in a shisha bar.
 
I came to Turkey alone after I finished high school. My dream is to reach Europe, ideally France or Germany. When I got to Pazarkule, I didn’t have anything, not even a tent, so I slept on the ground. I protected myself as best as I could with a plastic tarp but I was so cold at night that I couldn’t sleep. Add to that all the babies who wouldn’t stop crying. It was exhausting.

At that time, Turkish soldiers were handing out food twice a day but it wasn’t much. A pack of biscuits and a bottle of water per person and there was never enough for everyone.

Greek authorities announced on March 5 that they had prevented 35,000 people from entering the territory in just five days. Reports by major media outlets covering the border as well as videos filmed by the migrants themselves show Greek border guards using large amounts of tear gas to push back migrants trying to get through border fences.
"Greek police arrested and strip-searched an Afghan family”

All of the migrants who spoke to our team said that they had experienced or witnessed violence carried out by Greek border guards. The violence is what made Muhittin decide to give up and return to Istanbul.
 
I tried to cross the river by boat on two separate occasions. But when we got to the other side, we saw about 30 police officers waiting for us. I was in a group with babies so we decided to turn back. I was also thinking about the stories my friends had told me about being arrested after having made the crossing.

I was especially thinking about one Afghan family that I know. They sold everything they owned in Istanbul. They were arrested and strip-searched by Greek police. They told me that the police took the €7,000 that they had in cash as well as the men’s clothes and their cellphones. The police eventually sent them back to Turkey, gave them back €300 and told them not to come back. They also returned to Istanbul, but they have nothing left and had to sleep in the street.
In this video, two Iranian migrants named Reza and Muhamad explain to our team in English and Persian what it’s like to live in the makeshift camp in Pazarkule. At the beginning, they hold up tear gas canisters used by Greek border guards to push back those trying to cross.

Their stories were corroborated by several journalists who reported from Pazarkule. Belal Khaled, a journalist with Turkish television channel TRT, took photos of several migrants who had been sent back to Turkey wearing just their underwear. Some of them had marks across their backs where they had been hit.


Other photos and videos filmed by migrants that showed similar injuries also circulated on social media.



French news agency France Agence Presse (AFP) reported that muddy shoes and cellphones had accumulated next to the entrance of the police station in Tychero, which is located 10 kilometres from Ispala (80 kilometres to the south of Pazarkule). On the other side of the border, there were migrants walking barefoot who said that Greek police had taken their shoes. AFP journalists also witnessed Greek soldiers who were wearing masks take migrants away in military vehicles or in vans without licence plates.
 
A "image war” between Athens and Ankara


Greece and Turkey have been carrying out a fierce “image war” about what is happening at the border, with both sides accusing the other of carrying out abuses and sharing false information.

Turkey has accused Greek border guards of killing migrants, including one who was shot during clashes at the border. Greece denies this and has called it “fake news”.

On the other hand, Greek authorities have accused Turkish forces of setting off smoke bombs and tear gas on the Greek side of the border and giving the migrants wire cutters to cut the fences erected to keep them out.

Several migrants told our team that they had seen people with gunshot wounds, though they weren’t sure how they had sustained these injuries. They also showed us videos showing the injured people, though we were not able to establish the nature of their injuries.
These screengrabs were taken from a video showing people carrying three injured men. The two images on the right show the same man.

We haven’t seen any photos of bullets or plastic pellets that would help confirm these claims.

However, the use of tear gas has been widely documented. Investigative site Bellingcat reported that one of the kinds of munitions found at the site can be lethal if fired into a crowd at close range.
A Turkish journalist took these photos in Pazarkule and posted them on Instagram.

Journalists with Bellingcat examined the type of tear gas canister on the picture above, which shows expended munitions near the areas where migrants are trying to enter Greece. Markings on these projectiles indicate they are long range tear-gas rounds made by Defence Technology – Federal Laboratories. These powerful, pointed projectiles can be potentially lethal to anyone hit directly. Amnesty International identified similar munitions resulting in the deaths of scores of protesters in Iraq.

 

"I experienced a lot of racism in Turkey”

All of the migrants who spoke to our team said that they were leaving Turkey for Europe in hopes of a better life, better work opportunities in particular. Muhittin says Afghan migrants are often given pitiful salaries in Turkey, which he says is due to racism.
 
Turkey won’t give us papers in order to work here legally. Some Afghans who I know have been living and working here for ten years and still don’t have proper papers. We are discriminated against in terms of salaries as well. Afghans who work in factories or on construction sites are often expected to work 13 or 14 hours a day for a monthly salary of €180. The minimum for Turkish workers is €350 and their days aren’t longer than nine or ten hours.

Sasan said there were other reasons that he wanted to leave.
 
I’ve experienced a lot of racism here. I am staying in Pazarkule and trying to persist in spite of the conditions because if we go back to Turkey, that will be even harder with the new political climate. Rights are being eroded and interviews with immigration officials are becoming more and more difficult. My only choice is to move on to Europe. The Turks don’t want us and I am an Iranian political refugee; I’d risk prison if I return to my country.


READ ON THE OBSERVERS >> Wave of violence breaks out against Syrians in Turkey