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Notes from #Pazarkule / #Evros, the Fifth Day

Pazarkule. Turkey. March 4, 2020. It is our fifth day on the field. The day began with the large groups of migrants arriving at Pazarkule checkpoint in the darkness, which went on until the afternoon.

Originally published by GÖÇMEN DAYANIŞMASI.

Around 9:30am, we heard the sounds of machine gun fire coming from the Greek side followed by the ambulance sirens going in and out of the region. We kept hearing gunshots for another half an hour. By the time we got together in front of our van, the checkpoint was already full of journalists’ vehicles, most of which had license plates beginning with number 34. At 11:30am, TBMM (Parliament of TR) Human Rights Commission, arrived at the checkpoint from areas where the migrants were, and issued a press statement. 

At 3:00pm, it became chaotic at the checkpoint. The gendarme was chasing groups of migrants as they were trying to enter the checkpoint clearing the police barriers while other group of migrants was heading towards the border through the empty fields. And on the other side, there were also migrants gathering at the gate trying to cross the checkpoint, and the journalists trying to capture images of this chaotic situation.

Undercover gendarme teams got the journalists and then all the other non-migrants out of the front of the checkpoint, which was also the place we were at. All the non-migrant “elements”, including us, were kicked out of the area with their vehicles to a place next to Süleyman Demirel Science High School which was 1 km away to Edirne. Realizing that it was not a suitable place to make contact with migrants, we left that area.

After parking our vehicles in Karaağaç, we walked back to the area where we were kicked out of, and talked to the gendarme commander to bring our van back to the same spot again. But they did not allow us to do so claiming that there was a governor’s order in place. There were only the security forces and just a few migrants trying to reach the border. We managed to talk to the regional Coordinator for Migration Management over the phone and he said that they would take the soup and deliver it inside the checkpoint through AFAD (Governmental Humanitarian Organisaon) and Migration Management if we prepared it. But we declined the offer because for us the soup was a means of connecting, communicating and sharing space with the migrants, even if only briefly. 

In the meantime, we got the information that there was a group of migrants waiting on the Edirne side of Tunca bridge, and we drove there to see the situation. From the end of the bridge, we could see around 200-300 migrants. Some of them were in tents and others were sitting on pieces of plastic, trying to keep themselves warm by a fire. We gathered that the situation was a possible act of provocation due to a very little police presence and to the fact that the area was inside the city. Indeed, just shortly after our arrival at the location, a fight broke out between the youngsters from Edirne and the migrants for reasons we could not quite understand. The group from Edirne, who were the aggressors, left the area after the police intervention.

There were migrants who had been waiting in that area for 4-5 days and there were also others who just came that day. After talking with the migrants, we decided that it was a suitable place to set up a kitchen. While we were there, we saw the police trying to force the migrants into the busses that would take them to Pazarkule.

When it started raining late at night, we once again witnessed how defenseless the migrants were without any shelters from such weather conditions. Although they subsequently took a shelter under the roof of the marketplace nearby, there was an urgent need for dry clothes as they were completely soaked wet in the rain. There was clearly no such structure to respond to these circumstances. We could merely share the plastic bags and covers we had. We observed the insufficiency and incapability of AFAD and the Migration Management.

The bus that our friend took from Istanbul in order to join our rotation was stopped by the police 40 kilometers to Edirne. Without an ID check, passengers who were “believed to be migrants” were ordered to get off the bus. Later we found out that they were transferred to Pazarkule by police in different buses.

After that interposition different police squads stopped the bus twice more, and by following the same procedure they made more people get off. The information we had received suggested that it was a common practice for all intercity busses, which was soon confirmed by people who arrived at the zone later on.

No border Pazarkule/Edirne, March 4, 2020.

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