Violence, pushbacks and deaths happen not only along the escape routes across the Aegean Sea, but also on the land route in north-eastern Greece. The border river Evros plays an important role in the crossing from Turkey to Europe. It is not only the biggest obstacle, but also a silent witness to continuous human rights violations.
Pushbacks at the land border
The land border in northern Greece with Turkey measures just under 200 kilometres. The two countries are separated by the Evros River (Bulgarian: Mariza, Turkish: Meric Nehri)for almost the entire distance. Although nowhere in the border area is the river wider than 50 metres and deeper than five metres, the fast current makes it a dangerous obstacle for refugees who, despite the short distance, have to rely on tugboats with rubber dinghies.
The declared goal of the Greek government is to completely seal off the land route against migrants and to secure all regions that can be passed on foot. To this end, they erected 35 kilometres of border fence years ago at the only point where the water does not form a natural border between the two countries. In the future, the fence is to be extended by another 80 kilometres.
In their plan, however, the authorities are not only relying on fortified border installations, but also on the brutal practice of pushbacks. The Greek government boasts that it has prevented about 150,000 irregular border crossings since the beginning of the year.
The dangerous journey across the river and the fear of being sent back repeatedly lead to various deaths while trying to cross the Evros. This year alone, more than 50 people have already lost their lives in the region while trying to reach Europe.
Inhumane treatment at the land border
How inhumanly refugees are treated in the Evros region is shown by the story Hassan Abdulkadir tells in the Frankfurter Rundschau. His brother Akram died in custody of Greek militias at the beginning of July.
After the successful crossing of the Evros River, the two hid with other refugees in a wooded area near the small Greek town of Orestiada as Akram's health deteriorated visibly. Eventually, he collapsed and began hallucinating - at which point Hassan dialed the Greek emergency number.
Instead of the life-saving ambulance, the police arrived and arrested the fugitives. However, they were not then taken to the post, the police handed them over to another group of men dressed in black, wearing neither uniform nor state insignia and travelling in a vehicle that was not recognisable as a police car.
They were transported to a building full of holding cells where a large number of people were already detained. Most of them were from Syria, but there were also some from Afghanistan, Turkey or various African countries. Their phones and money were taken from them - they were not given any water. When Hassan called out from the cell for help for his brother, they were beaten with a wooden stick.
In the evening of the same day, all the prisoners were crammed into minibuses. This included Akram, who by now was no longer able to walk on his own and whose condition continued to deteriorate. Crammed between more than 20 people, Akram finally died on the way to the border river Evros, where the masked men dragged them back to.
However, this was no reason to stop, let alone provide help. On the contrary, once at the river, the black-clad men drove the refugees into the river and towards Turkey. Including Hassan, who was forced at gunpoint to leave his brother's body on the riverbank.
Evros region is restricted area
The story of the Abdulkadir brothers is only one of many examples of the contempt with which the Greek authorities secure their borders and the brutality with which pushbacks are carried out. Time and again, it is publicised that entire groups of refugees are detained by masked men and held in prisons without access to water, food or sanitation.
And in many cases, people are eventually forced by force to get into rubber boats and cross the river back to the Turkish side.
What exactly is happening in the Evros region, however, is difficult to verify. The whole region has been a military exclusion zone for years. Reporters or NGOs are not tolerated here and even some EU parliamentarians were denied access when they wanted to inspect the situation.
Once again, it shows that the Greek authorities do not shy away from human rights violations and strategic lack of transparency in order to secure their borders and expand Fortress Europe. As always, at the expense of people in search of a dignified life.
We demand safe routes for all and an immediate stop to all pushbacks!