Crossing through the land border: What are the risks?

The route across the land border between Greece and Turkey holds many dangers for refugees, especially during winter time. In recent months, we’ve received several complaints from people who experienced pushbacks when trying to cross into Greece’s northeastern region of Evros, including this one:

"They forced all males to give all their money and mobile phones. The men were also forced to take off their clothes and some were even obliged to take off their underwear and swim the river, in the middle of the night, back to the Turkey shore. All women and children were just robbed and returned back by boat."

This group of refugees was arrested by police and detained for up to 4 days before being returned back to Turkey by the Greek army, according to the message.

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The number of similar reports has increased as more and more people have been crossing through the land border in the past year. Arrivals rose significantly in the Evros area in April 2018 when over 3,600 refugees crossed the Evros River (also called Meriç in Turkish). In Greece, UNHCR reported it was the first time since 2013 that land arrivals surpassed sea arrivals on the Aegean islands.

According to the most recent data collected by UNHCR, the total number of Evros arrivals in 2018 is more than triple the total in 2017. More than 18,000 refugees arrived by land in 2018 compared to an estimated 5,600 in 2017.

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Why are people crossing through Evros?

Many people who’ve recently crossed through Evros see the route as an alternative to going through the Greek islands, where refugees face bigger barriers as a result of the EU-Turkey Deal and geographical restrictions.

Signed in March 2016, the EU-Turkey Deal was intended to deport people who arrive on the Greek islands and do not qualify for asylum in Greece back to Turkey. This is a special process called the Fast-Track Border Procedure. In practice, this procedure takes a long time and many cases are still pending.

As a result of the deal, those who arrive on the Greek islands are not allowed to leave the island before their asylum case is processed, which can take months or — in many cases — years.

Asylum-seekers who arrive through the land border and are arrested by police are placed in detention. As they don't fall under the EU-Turkey Deal, people from countries with higher asylum recognition rates are usually released and allowed to move freely through the country much sooner.

UNHCR reported that the majority of those who arrived through the land border in spring 2018 were Kurds from Afrin, in northern Syria, as well as people fleeing from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other parts of Syria.

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Read more about the dangers of crossing the land border from Turkey into Greece:

If you have any more questions about the situation at the land border, please don’t hesitate to message us on Facebook. We will do our best to get you answers as soon as possible.

Cover Photo: Orestis Seferoglou (photo's color edited slightly)