Meral Candan / DUVAR
Ali and Haluk sit next to each other on a bus to Edirne. When they heard the news that Turkey’s border to Europe was to be opened, they decided to leave their lives in the city of Balıkesir behind and head to the Pazarkule border gate, which leads to Greece. 18-year-old Haluk works at a restaurant and 20-year-old Ali works at a glassmaker. But like most migrants, they have both suffered their share of troubles. They say their wages were so low they couldn’t get by. Though they left Afghanistan for Turkey with great hopes, they were disillusioned upon arrival. One sentences captures the reason why they so desperate to leave: “life here is very tough.”
This is their first time travelling to the border. They follow the developments at the border on social media, and believe that if the number of people waiting at the Pazarkule gate increases, Greece won’t be able to withstand it and will open the border. Haluk plans to stay there only for two or three days, saying that this is what it will take. Ali goes through the few possessions he says will enable him to get through the night: one blanket, a sweater, two bottles of water and a few biscuits.
They board a minibus at the Edirne bus station headed to Pazarkule. The bus departs once it is full with migrants and later drops the group by the side of the road. Haluk takes out his phone to check the map for the location of the border. While it isn’t far, the route to the entrance is complicated. The only way to cross the border is through a river and a bridge.
As the Afghans walk on the road, a vehicle stops and tells the group that the police closed the bridge. They tell them they can head to the village of Doyran instead, which is adjacent to the Maritsa River and Turkey’s border with Greece, for a fixed price. Some in the group opt to head towards the river while others choose to walk towards the bridge.
Haluk and Ali are convinced that the best way to cross the border is via the bridge. After 45 minutes of walking, they arrive at the bridge and are confronted by police. Migrants that arrived earlier and saw that the bridge was closed are now waiting in front of the police.
The number of people attempting and failing to make it through Pazarkule continues to rise, no nearing 100.
The Turkish police repeat their warning that the border will not opened and that those wish to do so can board mibinuses for the village of Doyran. Haluk and Ali decide to wait. They believe that the pressure of the crowd will result in the police opening the crossing sooner or later.
After a three-hour wait, the police announce that they will intervene if those who continue to wait do not leave. As people hopelessly scatter, Haluk and Ali are unsure what to do. Ultimately they decide to board onto the vehicles sent by the police and head towards the village in a group that of around ten people.
On the way, it becomes clear that they are not being brought to Doyran, but to a village called Elçili that is further ahead. The driver says that he has changed his route due to a large group of migrants that has gathered at Doyran.
The minibus stops on the shores of the Maritsa River. Other groups are already waiting there. Someone approaches Ali and Haluk and tells them they can cross the river with a boat. The two men want to think about a bit. Ali wanders around, looking at the boat by the river as well as a jacket lying on the ground. “Who’s jacket is this? It’s clear that someone left it here and fled. This is very dangerous,” Ali says.
Other migrants who are waiting tell Haluk they want to try to cross the river. Ali tries to convince Haluk to return but his efforts are in vain. Haluk has long made his decision. “I have come this far, they say that many people have crossed so I will try my luck,” Haluk says.
Haluk, who earlier on believed that the border would be opened, appears to have lost his hopes as the hours pass. He went to Edirne for the purpose of reaching the Pazarkule gate but has found himself at the edge of the Maritsa river. Ali makes a desperate decision and decides to join Haluk. “I can’t abandon my friend,” he says.
While writing these sentences, Ali has left the border and returned to Istanbul. On the way back, he explains what happened: “Haluk and I bought a boat for 500 TL. But a couple of men speaking Turkish came and threatened us and took the boat. Our money is gone and I couldn’t handle it anymore,” he says.
Haluk, on the other hand, has not given up, and opts to spend the night by the river. “In a bit, I’ll try to cross with a boat. If I give up I’ll let you know,” he says. Haluk hasn’t called since and is not answering his phone.
While those who have dragged people to the border for politics sleep comfortably at night, Haluk and dozens of others fight for their lives at the border gates, on the edge of rivers and at sea.