The Greek government has stepped up measures to fortify its border with Turkey and stem the tide of refugees, Since the Taliban swept back to power in Afghanistan, meanwhile, the EU is calling for more transparency.
The river Evros forms the land border between Greece and Turkey. The waters of this river and its tributaries have made the Evros region one of the most fertile in Greece. Here, on both sides of one of Europe’s most controversial external borders, rolling green hills lined with small deciduous forests stretch as far as the eye can see.
Refugees have been passing through here for as long as I can remember,” says local farmer Fotis Chantzis. While migrants cross the region on their way to western Europe, many locals have turned their back on Evros in recent decades.
Thirty-six-year-old Chantzis is one of the few people who have decided to stay. “This is Greece’s most neglected region,” he says. Despite the fact that conditions for crop cultivation in the region are ideal, the locals face economic hardship. “We had a sugar factory that was really important for the people here, and they closed it down,” says Chantzis.
Global competition also makes it difficult for farmers here to make ends meet. But despite the many problems the people of Evros face, the central government in Athens is interested in one thing above all else: making the border impassable for refugees — even after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.
The Evros River and the Turkish border run right behind the hills of the village where Chantzis runs his farm. Countless abandoned buildings bear witness to the tough economic reality of life here. Instead of tractors and harvesting machinery, military jeeps patrol the area. The river is now a military exclusion zone and inaccessible for most people. Attempts to film or investigate there are viewed as espionage and can result in criminal charges.
Nevertheless, refugees regularly succeed in crossing the border, although numbers seem to have decreased in recent weeks. Anyone passing through the forests near the border will come across discarded backpacks, tents, empty water bottles and candy bar wrappers from Turkey: “They sleep in the woods after they cross the river and then move on the next day,” says Chantzis. The economic and political neglect of the region is fueling xenophobia among many of the locals, he says, emphasizing at the same time that the refugees simply pass through without causing any harm or damage.
When asked whether refugees are crossing the border at the moment and if so, how many, locals give contradictory answers. Many of those who speak of “lathrometanastes” (illegal immigrants) claim that people are crossing the border on a daily basis, passing through the villages and stealing from fields and gardens. Others feel that the numbers are decreasing. A waitress in the village of Praggi says it’s been a while since she saw any refugees. “They avoid the main roads because they are afraid of the police.”
Meanwhile, local media claim that large numbers of Afghan refugees began crossing over into Greece at the end of August. They show videos of large groups — including families — trudging through forests and fields. Although it is not known when and where the footage was filmed, the message is crystal clear: Illegal immigrants are entering the country and heading for its towns and cities.