'Live like human beings': Refugees robbed, assaulted trying to cross Greek border

'Live like human beings': Refugees robbed, assaulted trying to cross Greek border
4 min read
19 March, 2020
The New Arab travelled with Syrian refugees from Istanbul to the Greek border, where thousands are now trapped.
Syrians wait to board buses in Istanbul heading to the Greek border. [Qusay Noor]
Amir has made many attempts to get to Greece. "Getting there is not easy, it is very difficult. There is cold and hunger".  

After Turkey opened its border with Europe earlier in March, thousands of refugees of various nationalities headed towards Greece.  

When they arrived, Greek police used tear gas to disperse them and keep them away.

Some police officers reportedly assaulted the refugees, while others stole their phones and money. 

"Being smuggled into Greece is very difficult," Amir told The New Arab in Istanbul. "I tried to get there several times. I came here to tell people about what is going on there and warn them against that". 

Some refugees tried to cross into Greece by sea but were intercepted by coastguards. Other boats sank, and friends and family are still waiting to find out their fate. 

The first time Amir attempted the journey he walked through the woods for 14 hours. Apprehended by Greek police, he had €7,000 ($7,543) and his mobile phone taken from him before being brought back to the Turkish border. 

Read more: Outrage after Greek coastguard filmed 'attacking' refugee boat

Read more: Refugees and democracy are dying at 
Europe's front door

The second time, in 2018, he paid a smuggler to get him to Greece, but the police caught them again and brought them back to Turkey. 

"Now I will not take these buses there, at all. Because the Greek police insult the refugees a lot. I do not advise anyone to go there until Greece opens its borders, as Turkey did. Because now, the people are stealing everything the refugees have at the border." 

'We want the war to stop'

The New Arab travelled by bus with three other journalists and refugees to the Greek border. The police would not let journalists enter an area of woodland where refugees sleep outside in the cold. Photos were also forbidden. 

Dark, with no lighting at all, and covered with thick bushes and trees, many refugees have tried to reach the Greek border on foot. On the way there they pass many others already returning, hoping to go back to Istanbul. 

One man making his way back from the Greek border told TNA that many of those attempting to cross are Iranian, Afghan, or Egyptian. 

"For most of them, their lives were not difficult, they had a safe house to live in and somewhere they belonged, and there was no war in their country," he told The New Arab. 

A Syrian refugee in Istanbul waits for buses heading towards the border with Greece. [Qusay Noor]

"We are not looking for money or anything. We want the war to stop in our country, Syria, and we will return directly to it. We just want the United Nations to do a little to help the Syrian people. We are almost at 11 years of war in our country." 

After Turkey opened its border a group of buses departed from three areas of Istanbul to take Syrians to the border. While the transportation there was free, buses were not allowed to take people back to Istanbul. 

On the second day following the border opening, however, some bus drivers started taking advantage of people. One group of refugees told The New Arab that passengers were forced to pay money for each person to board the buses for fuel and maintenance.

Read more: As the stakes rise ever higher in Syria, refugees pay the price

Already half way there, the drivers told passengers that if they didn't pay 100 Turkish lira ($15) they would be forced to leave the bus.

'Live like human beings'

Demanding a chance to live like normal human beings, many refugees are now trapped by the border, without money or shelter. 

One man who spoke to The New Arab in Istanbul said the buses had been free for the first three days, before demanding a payment for the journey. He had travelled from the Eastern side of Istanbul after hearing about the transport. 

"Where is the municipality that organised this matter? There have been people sleeping here for the last two days in the forest with whole families," he said. 

Syrians pictured sleeping outside. [Qusay Noor]

"They have children and they need to go to the bathroom and they need a lot of things. They do not have money." 

The man, who did not wish to be identified, said that he sold his home last year to pay a smuggler to reach Europe. He was deported back to Syria where he paid another smuggler to take him to Istanbul. 

"And now I have no safety here in Istanbul, and any police patrol that grabs me here will send me to Syria again. Living here is very bad. And I hope they open the borders so that we can go out to Europe so that we can live like humans there." 

In the meantime, thousands of refugees remain trapped near the Greek border in adverse weather conditions, and the situation continues to get worse.  

Entire families wait for the border to open, but there is nothing there for them, just another 'no man's land' where they are unwelcome. 

Qusay Noor, is a freelance journalist from Syria currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Follow him on Twitter: @QUSAY_NOOR_