The Evros border in the limelight – an overview

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Some ten weeks ago, the Evros/Pazarkule Greek-Turkish border had become a site of humanitarian concern, of political contention and of potential conflagration. A reminder: the Turkish practice of allowing refugees/migrants/asylum seekers to (try and) cross over to Greece en masse was resisted at the Greek side, with the EU joining in to keep what became known as “the European border” shut. Makeshift camps were formed at Pazarkule. The hundreds that succeeded in crossing – as well smaller numbers at the Aegean islands in the same time-frame – were detained in Greece as illegal entrants in closed centres and denied even the right to apply for asylum (for a limited, one-month period).

The Covid-19 pandemic worked as a turning-point – or as a pretext – for Turkey to cease its practice of pushing refugees/migrants towards “Europe”; that is, until the first week of May. From then onwards, the official Turkish position was that “the Turkish border was open for people to leave” – but no new wave was caused. Instead, border incidents began to increase. Turkish Air Force overflights took place over Greek territory; last week, a piece of land in the river bed of Evros, near Ferres, was claimed – de facto – by Turkish forces – with a (diplomatic) riposte from the Greek side. Greece being what it is, an internecine confrontation looms between the Opposition (claiming that the official reaction was too soft, if not relinquishing Greek sovereign soil) and the Government (accusing the Opposition as being entrapped by Right-wing extremist sites preying on the issue).

A different front may be forming, with media claims about Greek maltreatment of illegally crossing people. Once again, a reminder: NYT allegations that migrants were detained incommunicado at a “secret site” near Evros were given the lie, with the NYT finally acknowledging the Greek denials. On the other hand, conditions at the “closed” detention camp in Kleidi/North of Serres (near the border with Bulgaria, which caused further complications) for those illegal entrants denied ever the right to apply for asylum were gradually relaxed – and application procedures were reestablished. The pressure of the HCHCR along with European Commissioner Ylva Johansson’s stance over the issue helped for things to get back to normal. Still, a new round of accusations about refugee/migrants maltreatment came to the surface, this time around through a Deutsche Welle short documentary on the issue. Once more Greece denied any wrong-doing, pointing at Turkish disinformation practices.

All in all: tension all around.