Beatings, lies, drowning: For migrants in Turkey, the impossible crossing of the Maritsa river

Mohammed Zikeh has shared his journey crossing the Turkey-Greece border on social media.
Mohammed Zikeh has shared his journey crossing the Turkey-Greece border on social media. © Observers

Smugglers sell them an easy journey. But once on the banks of the Maritsa river, which separates Greece and Turkey, most would-be immigrants to Europe are disappointed: they have to cross the river and avoid running into Greek border guards or they will be beaten up and sent back across the river. Our Observer told us about the challenges he experienced making the crossing.

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Mohammed Zikeh is a young Syrian migrant. He works as a construction worker in Gaziantep, in the south-east of Turkey. Between August and September 2021, he made four attempts to cross the border between Turkey and Greece, the gateway to Europe.  

To do so, he first travelled to Edirne, in the far west of the country, before reaching the banks of the Maritsa river, the natural border between Turkey and Greece.

'They really hit me everywhere'

But each time he made the crossing, Zikeh was spotted by Greek border guards, who beat him severely before forcing him to cross the river back into Turkey. He documented part of his journey on his TikTok channel. In this video, he shows the marks on his thighs and knee from the beating he received from the border guards.

@mohammadzika الكومندس اليوناني كسرني تكسير لأني هربت😂 نصيحة لا حدا يهرب لا حدا يهررررب #هجرة #تركيا #يونان #محمد #مغامرون_بلا_حدود ♬ الصوت الأصلي - 🥇💎محمد اللادئاني💎🥇

 

They hit me with three or four sticks. I am also injured on my chest and back, and they broke my nose. I got a big blow on my jaw. They really hit me everywhere.

The Greek authorities deny the violence, but illegal and violent deportations to the Turkish border, known as "pushbacks", are very common according to human rights NGOs.

Around 98% of pushbacks are accompanied by torture and degrading treatment, according to the Border Violence Monitoring Network in a study published on November 1.

Plus, many migrants drown in the river every year. Zikeh explained:

In general, the border guards force us to cross the river at a place where the water is not very deep, but many drown because they are swept away by the current which is sometimes too strong.

Nearly 200 unidentified migrants are buried in a cemetery in Sidro, a small Greek village a few kilometres from the Turkish border.

 

Migrant cemetery in Sidro, a Greek village located a few kilometres from the border with Turkey. Consolidated Rescue Group, October 22, 2021.

 

'Many people, if they knew what was going on, would not attempt the journey'

Zikeh decided to tell his story in order to bring a dose of reality to social networks, where smugglers often present the migrant crossing as a walk in the park.

There are women and families with children who attempt the journey. Many people, if they knew what was going on, would not attempt the journey. The smugglers promote the crossing in Facebook and Telegram groups. 

They completely fail to mention the risks of drowning, the brutality of the border guards. So to set the record straight, I put a long video on YouTube where I explain the hell I went through during my four failed attempts.

Last August, the Greek government announced the completion of a 40-kilometre wall along its land border with Turkey. A barrier of almost 12 kilometres had already been erected between the two countries in 2016. An electronic surveillance system and the recruitment of 1,200 additional border guards on land and in the Aegean Sea complete the anti-migrant system, according to Infomigrants.