In 2016 there was a deal made between Turkey and Europe in an attempt to stem the flow of refugees into Europe. It would work by returning one Syrian refugee from the Greek islands to Turkey and in exchange, a Syrian asylum seeker in Turkey would be found a home in Europe. Early this year, after intense bombings in the Idlib province of Syria, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan encouraged a thousands of Refugees to move through Greece to Europe. He said he would ‘open the Greek and Turkish border’ which, under that 2016 EU-Turkey statement, he had been tasked to protect from irregular crossings. The resulting influx of asylum-seekers, migrants and refugees into Greece was met with violence at the borders, with Greek police using tear-gas, water cannons, and stun grenades. In response, and in an attempt to further halt that movement, Europe agreed to pay Turkey 6 billion Euros. Just over half of this has been paid out. By the beginning of March, renewed violence at the border was rife amid speculation the previous deal between the EU and Turkey had fallen through. LSE reports there were videos of Greek border guards shooting at a dinghy containing people seeking refuge in Greece – along with the 450 people trapped in a naval vessel in Lesbos forbidden to lodge asylum claims.Turkey also deployed 1000 police officers to its border to prevent Greece pushing migrants and refugees back. Thousands of people were stuck between the Turkish and Greek borders.
As this was happening, Covid19 was spreading through Europe. I wanted to understand how the spread of Covid19 was going to impact those currently stuck between each border and what measures were being taken to protect those people. My friend Milad is from Germany, a child of refugees. He knows many languages and went to volunteer on the Greek island of Samos last year to support those who needed support in both the Farsi and Dari languages. I asked Milad if he could put me in touch with anyone who was there currently to speak to this situation. He pointed me in the direction of a facebook group set up to coordinate volunteers heading to Greece. There I found a few people who wanted to speak to me, we will hear from them soon, and perhaps in the coming days as well as the situation develops. Natalie Gruber is from Austria, since 2015 she has been involved in the refugee crisis as a volunteer on different borders throughout Europe. She works as a volunteer for the organisation Josoor, which means Bridge in Arabic. It’s an association founded in 2015 by Syrian refugee Qutaiba Zarzour and Natalie with the goal of developing an online platform to connect everyone involved in the European refugee crisis.
So - Two weeks ago, Natalie travelled to Turkey with other volunteers given the huge number of refugees stuck between the border of Turkey and Greece forced there by authorities on either side. Natalie arrived in Erdina, a city close to the border with Greece, and it was too difficult to get into the camp. Natlie said police were discouraging people to help there. The group of volunteers split, some staying there and forming connections and others heading home to work from there. She’s working on a crowdfunding campaign where the money goes directly to purchasing supplies that can be distributed such as food medicine sanitary products blankets and plastic sheets for tents because real tents are not allowed. I spoke to Natalie while she was in Austria. I started by asking her what the situation is at the border.
Update: Lillian spoke to Natalie on the 27th March. The situation has changed a lot since then:
"Everyone has now been removed from the border and brought to detention camps in nine different places. The camps are all over Turkey, not Istanbul as promised - some even on the Syrian border. Police showed our Facebook profiles to the people on the busses, asking if they were in touch with us. Most people had their phones taken away right then and there, and those who managed to hide them have since been running out of battery so we have almost no contact anymore. The officials said that the people would be returned to the border after 2 weeks of quarantine, but we don't really believe that".
Videos mentioned in the piece:
If you wish to donate to support Josoor, find their campaign here.