Border Turkey-Greece: The river of death | VPRO Documentary


We travel along the Turkish border: A buffer zone
between crisis-ridden Europe… …and the power struggle
in the Middle East. What do these borders tell us
about the Turks and about us? Four borders, four stories about
life on both sides of the border. Along the Turkish borders gateway to Europe Friends. Are you Turkish?
Yes? Where are you from?
– Enez. What have you got there? Is it fish?
– Yes. How much?
– 50 kilos. Is this Greece, or Turkey? Is this Greek territory?
– Yes. Bye. This is it: the European border. Greece
lies to our West, Turkey to our East. A watery 200 km border… …where tens of thousands of refugees
cross over to Europe every year… …the road to paradise. This is Edirne,
the westernmost town in Turkey… …right on the Greek border. As you can see the river Evros,
as the Greeks call it, is the border. The Turks call it the Meriç. The thing is, the river bends here,
where we are standing now… …but the border goes on across land
for another 11 kilometres. That’s where lots of refugees
try their luck. There we see an official
border crossing. The Greek border. This area belongs to local farmers. I want to see how close we can get
to the European border from this angle. Hello.
– Hello. How are you?
– Very well, thank you. Are you a farmer?
– Yes. Here?
– Yes, here. Is the border close by?
– The border… How many metres? 2.5 kilometres.
About 2 kilometres. You can see the watchtowers there.
The Turkish watchtowers. They won’t object.
Go and see for yourself. Hello.
– No filming. We are from the Netherlands.
– Stop. What are you doing here?
– We’re from Holland. Stop. Why are you filming? Where is the border?
– Right here. Is the border here?
– Here. 200 metres. But this is farmland.
– The border is here. I didn’t know that. Who’s calling? Who’s there? The commander?
The commander. Is there a problem? You’re taking photographs.
That’s prohibited. It’s not prohibited here,
only at the border. It’s prohibited within 200 yards. So where does that start? It’s 100 yards up to there.
From here… Is it prohibited here too?
– Yes. Prohibited. We’ll go check.
– But from which point? These Turkish soldiers are the last
hurdle for travellers to Europe. They are the gatekeepers
outside the walls around Europe. The Turks are not allowed to join
the EU, and yet they are expected… …to solve a big European problem. Turkey is an unwilling buffer zone. We have 300 right now.
– 300? And they are all in this…
– In these dormitories, yes. So, where do they get arrested? Especially on the borders. When you
come to the border, it’s an illegal zone. It’s forbidden for people. When they attempt to cross the border
they are arrested… …and the army brings them
to these centres. And we will start their deportation
procedures. So in principle all these people are going
to be sent back to Pakistan, Afghanistan… No, not like that. We can do some…voluntary return. If they refuse, what do you do then? If they refuse, we don’t accept. What do you do?
– They want to stay in Turkey. But in Turkey there is a rule:
How can they stay? Because they have no passport
or documents… …how can they stay in our country? What do you do then?
– Some asylum seeker procedures. If they don’t get asylum,
what do you do then? They settle in Turkey
and our Ministry will decide. So mostly they will stay in Turkey?
– Yes, and our Ministry decides. And then they will probably try
to cross again? Yes, sometimes they come
to the border again. Where were you caught? We were caught on the border. I’m from Syria. Syria? Somalia? Lots of places.
Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan. Hello.
– Hello. Senegal? Do you speak French?
– Mali. Where were you hoping to go?
– France or Italy. And what will you do now? When I get back I’ll try to find a job. Back in Mali?
– No, I want a job in Turkey. You’ll stay in Turkey to find work?
– Yes. And then move on to Europe?
– No, I’ll stay here. Stay in Turkey?
– Yes. The police are very nice. They’re nice?
– Yes. I’m from Palestine. Fortunately they let us talk
to the refugees, and interestingly… …they all say they’re from Palestine,
for the following reason. Clearly they’re not, because
some of them speak French. That’s unusual for a Palestinian. But Palestine is not an official state
and has no embassy in Turkey. So there’s no way to contact their
country, so they can’t be repatriated. The border town Edirne has a huge
monument to honour Turkey’s borders. It’s an ode to the Treaty of Lausanne
of 1923. It divided the remnants
of the Ottoman Empire… …and drew up the borders
of the new Turkish Republic. But it also stated that it would be better
for peace… …that Turkey’s millions
of Greek Orthodox people… …should move to Greece, and Greece’s
Muslims should move to Turkey. Ethnic cleansing
laid down in a peace treaty. Our ancestors came here
from Thessaloniki. Your relatives?
– Yes. We were born here,
but our ancestors came from there. You are of Greek descent?
– Yes. From Thessaloniki. How did this happen? There was a war. They had to go
and they fled to Turkey. In 1924?
– Yes, between 1924 and 1930. Our ancestors were refugees,
just like those Arabs are now. My grandmother was eight
when she got here. She told me how her mother
had set the cattle free… …and then left, weeping, carrying
her child and some of her things. They had to leave everything behind.
My granny was eight then. Do you see a lot of refugees
in your fields? Yes, it goes on and on.
– Still. It’s annoying for us too, of course.
They damage the crops. But it’s relentless. It can’t be helped. How are you feeling?
– We don’t have any problems. No problems?
– No. As long as they don’t trample the crops
it’s not a problem. If they do, it’s a nuisance. Are there many refugees?
– Yes. Yes. Small children, women. Terrible. Really? Can you tell me
what you’ve seen? They sit in the cornfield all day
and wait in the heat. Those small children. They’re miserable.
They’re humans just like us. Why do they flee their country?
Because there’s trouble. They take their babies. They’re in the fields with their babies
and get bitten by mosquitoes. Do you help them?
– We don’t go near them. Why not?
– It creates misunderstandings. It will make the soldiers angry.
They sneak around the cornfields. How can you see them?
– They try to hide during the day. And at night?
– Yes, we see them after dark. They’re really miserable. They sold
everything they had and left. Lots of people drown
trying to cross the river. Lots of people die. Borders create countries,
not the other way round. Borders enable us to say:
We live here, and the others live there. Here we are in the European Union.
Welcome to Greece. On the other side of the border,
Europe steps up its border control. More barricades are put up
around the fort… …to ease the unrest about the influx of
foreigners during an economic crisis. I grew up at a time when borders
were coming down. The Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain. The end of Apartheid came. Borders within the European Union
were removed. Even in Turkey the visa requirements
for almost 70 countries were abolished. But now soldiers patrol
the Turkish-Syrian border. They are practically on a war footing. Fences are thrown up
between Turkey and Europe. Border checks are reintroduced
on some internal European borders. What we see here
is a renaissance of borders. Every year, all through the summer… …we find large groups
of illegal immigrants on this river. To our left you see one of the busiest
places where illegal migrants cross. There are also places
where they spend the night. There’s one place where you
can cross the river on foot. But they don’t know that the water
comes up to your knees one moment… …and the next it’s three metres deep. So that’s where most people drown… …due to the treacherous depths
and the currents. This got washed up here. This person may have drowned
three or four kilometres upstream. The currents have taken him or her
down here. There was a hand here too earlier.
I don’t know where that’s gone. An animal may have taken it.
A jackal or a fox. I don’t know. This barrel is what they use
as a kind of boat. If they can’t swim, they hold on to
a barrel to make the crossing. A plastic boat. It’s rotting away. If we look here, we see the path. You can see it’s a track
that people use all the time. About 1.5 or 2 kilometres
in a straight line. The Evros is the only barrier,
more or less. It’s not hard to cross.
And from there on it’s chaos. There might be people there right now. They’re brought from Turkey
during the day. At night they come here
and they’re taken over there. Normally they get here at seven,
seven-thirty. Now I don’t know. Maybe they’re taking a different route,
round that side. Someone is bound to come.
They come every day. At the bridge they get a signal
to go to the petrol station. Then they’ll sit here in a row
until someone comes to pick them up. You’re Dutch?
– Yes, we are. Good to know. Are you with Frontex? So you drove
up and down the border all night? Was it busy?
– I can’t answer that. You’re not allowed to talk?
– No, sorry. Talk to our press officer. Nice to meet you, anyhow. Morning.
– Alright. How is it going? Had a good night?
– Yes. All quiet on the border. Thanks.
– We have to go. Good luck. See you.
– See you later. This is the European border,
so anyone coming in here… …may potentially end up
in the Netherlands. So Frontex, the border agency
for the EU, has Dutch officers too… …who patrol the borders all night. We see them here every day. In groups of 20, 50, sometimes even
100 or 150 people. Barefoot, soaking wet.
People are hungry. Exhausted people with small children.
Day after day after day. It’s completely full here. Frontex and the border guards
do nothing. They arrest them,
but they can’t stop them. I can’t understand it.
Greece is now full of them. We are powerless.
We have no borders. Are they coming? He says some Pakistani are coming.
With children. If you went to their country,
you’d definitely be shot. But here it looks like they’re coming
to the village party. Do you speak French?
– This is my friend. If we still had the minefield
and the army guarding the border… …no one would be able to cross. Now they guard nothing.
Everyone can just walk in. Here comes another swarm of flies.
– Yes. What can we say? Once they know their way here… …it’s just an endless parade. Only the Turks make good money
out of it. See, there’s more coming. I’m counting four, five children. Hello. Are you alright? Do you know what they do?
They throw away their identity papers. They throw them into the cornfield
or into the river. When asked where they’re from… …Pakistanis will say: Afghanistan.
They lie. How can you check up
on people like that? You can’t. Then they will start to steal or kill.
If they have no job, they must steal. Or they’re forced to kill someone.
Am I right? What good is that to us? They should go back to their own
country. They have to go. There’s a lot of unemployment
in Greece. A lot. The Greeks themselves can’t get jobs,
let alone these people. And if they do get a job, our children
won’t be able to find work. Am I right? We’re afraid.
We’re afraid of a lot of things. They sleep in caves, then come here.
What have they been through? There are no doctors there. Have they ever seen a doctor? How
many of them have seen a doctor? You understand? That’s the problem. Hello, I’m calling from Vyssa.
We have another group of illegals. With lots of small children. About fifteen people. With children.
OK? I’ll wait here. That’s all sorted. I called the police. Frontex. I called the border police
so they can come pick them up. Today it’s these people.
Tomorrow there will be others. The river brings them here. They come in boats.
– They’re not the only ones. But now it’s them. Laws don’t keep them away.
They can’t send them off or shoot them. You can just see them coming. They are protected by international law. Let all of Africa and Asia come here.
What would happen? What would happen?
– It’s terrible. They should just close the border.
– Let them come. Even with Frontex, new people
come into the country every day. What’s your point?
– They’re just following instructions. Why do they come here?
Their lives are in danger back home. Where are they supposed to go? If you’re going to guard your borders,
do it properly. The children too. Come along. There’s no more than ten in here.
– There’s room for another three. Three more people. Two or three? Two.
Just two. Stop. I’m putting two blacks in. They could use us
instead of border guards. We know everyone and everything here.
Just give us a van. He could do a shift today, I could
do one tomorrow. We’d do it that way. Those who come here are just like us
when we were driven away. We had to leave. Same as them. They had a hard life out there.
They’re looking for a better life. Those poor people need a future.
Poor souls, with children and everything. I can only feel sorry for them. They had to leave their own country
and come to Greece, just like we did. They’re here to build a new life. There’s war and trouble
in their own countries. We had a war back then too. We had to go because the Turks
had taken our land. We were forced to leave. They gave
that whole region to the Turks. Turkey took the region
as compensation. Everyone looked for a spot
and built a house. Or rather a shack. What were we supposed to
take with us? We didn’t have much time. We had a few days
to gather our things and leave. Despite the mass migrations
of the past century… …there’s still a small Turkish community
on the Greek side of the border. It proves that Greeks and Turks used to
live alongside each other here. Here we see a mosque, in Greece. Let’s go find the local imam. Excuse me. Wait up, please. Excuse me. Where is the imam?
– Up there, near Melisa’s shop. There?
– Yes, near those orange houses. The big red house?
– Yes. We are Turks. You’re a genuine Turk?
– Yes. Descendant of the Ottomans.
– An Ottoman Turk. Where is Turkey?
– Behind that hill. On the far side? The same distance from that hill
as from here to the hill. Lots of refugees come from there.
– Yes, but they drown. Many people drown.
The dead are brought here. How many people a week?
– It would be better not to ask. There are over 500 people
in this cemetery. Here’s a young child, 12 years old. From Iran. Iran? Were they refugees?
– The mother is next to it. There. They were travelling in winter
when it was very cold. A father and mother with their child. The father went to get the police,
but then he couldn’t find his family. They found them dead the next day. Mother and child had frozen to death
in each other’s arms. They were brought here. The father
cried. We were so powerless. It’s a miserable situation.
But what can we do? They are people, just like us.
We all want a good life. They come here in search of
a better life, but then they die. 500 people were buried
between here and there. Families too?
– Yes. 500 people. From which countries?
– Afghanistan and so on. It’s recorded. Afghanistan, Pakistan, all sorts.
– From all over the world. All Arab countries.
There are no Christians here. Why are they brought here?
What do you do with them, as a Muslim? Islam has certain regulations
for burying people. We bury them as prescribed by Islam. We wash them
and wrap them in a cloth. Then we place the wood
and we bury them. There are as many illegals here
as there are inhabitants in our village. They bring them here dead. Do relatives from Pakistan or Iran
ever visit their dead here? Very rarely. Very exceptionally. The relatives don’t know.
They think they’re still alive. But they’re lying in the ground here. What can you do? This is the detention centre,
the first stop for the refugees… …once the Greek police
have picked them up at the border. There’s a big fence with barbed wire,
but in fact it’s not all that strict. All they have to do here is sign a paper
and have their fingerprints taken. Then they’re kept here for 24 hours. If they don’t seek asylum,
and not many do… …they get a document saying they
have to leave Greece within 30 days. Then the gates are opened
and Europe is at their feet. Four tickets altogether. Seventy euros. Seventy euros, OK? 240 euros for four people. We have 230 euros here. How much is it?
– 70 dollars. That’s not enough. We need another 10 euros. Wait for us when you get off the bus. Where?
– At the bus stop. I’m not getting off before Athens.
– Wait for us in Athens. Is that your number? European parliaments still believe
the flow can be stopped… …with stricter laws, more police,
higher fences. But seeing all this I realised: No fence
will ever stop the hope of a better life. Those who want to go will go. I worked in a sawmill. But now there is no more work.
So I’m going to Turkey. Was it here in Orestiada
or in Athens? In Athens, yes. One year in Athens
and two years in Crete. I had a job in Crete. Four years. This year a ship carrying over 100
refugees sank off the Turkish coast. 61 of them drowned, mostly
women and children below deck… …who had nowhere to go
when the ship sank. All the victims were from Syria.

8 thoughts on “Border Turkey-Greece: The river of death | VPRO Documentary

  1. The truth, like it or not. History repeats itself. Some learn compassion from their own family history. Others pass judgment as they watch the flow of human suffering across the street, from the comfort of their café… HEARTLESS.
    But what to do? Walls / fences will not stop the desire for a better life.
    How can we STOP the stupidity of proxy war-mongering and the profiteering by the military industrial complex?

  2. Desperate hope vs hate – any of us can take (or be given) either role.
    Fewer people, fewer (if any) borders is my solution.
    Not practical at the moment, but a future goal maybe ?

    We need more videos like this.

  3. Senegal, Mali, Irak, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syrie. There are not war in this countries anymore. Even in Syria most of the country is liberated, except of Idlib. So, why those people go to the Evrope? For better life? They have to create better life in their homelands. By hard work. Like Evropeans did. Hard work and 2 children max and in 20 years their country could prosper. And in case they really dont want to stay in their homelands, why they do not go to the country with same religion and culture? Like SAE, or Saudi arabia? I tell you why. Because they would not take any "social" money there. They would have to work there, or die with hunger. Do not tell me that I hate them. It is just not true. But I understand that bilions of poor people cannot just move into Evrope, particullary into germany or other country with the most generous social system. There are 50.000.000 more people every year in Africa. It is one France every year. We can not save them, but we can destroy ourselves.

  4. Hoi, that’s an excellent doc with raw truthiness about the tragedy on the borderline. I really liked how the journalist didn’t take any position or thesis, and remained as much objective as he could. The situation in Evros right now is even harder as it is the necessity for humanistic solution. In my POV, the doc expresses accurately the dichotomy of Greeks’ opinion about this phenomenon. From the one side, the brutality and impiety to human life and right for a basic living condition,and from the other, the face of empathy and compassion.

  5. This is just jihad, nothing to do with genuine asylum seekers. The overwhelming majority of people trying to get into Europe are young men of fighting age, and Europe's traitor governments are complicit in this.

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