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Crossing the Evros: Turks Fleeing Erdogan’s Purge Seek Asylum in Greece

December 6, 2018

Some 5786 Turkish citizens sought asylum in Greece through October this year, the 27-month period following a failed coup that saw President Recep Tayyip Erdogan jail or fire thousands of rivals, civil servants and members of the military.

The numbers came from the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy, as reported by the news site Diken and media reports, which said 706 Turks applied for sanctuary in just October, after tensions between the countries were exacerbated when eight Turkish soldiers who fled the coup in which they denied taking part were barred by a Greek court from being extradited.

Some 14,000 crossed the Evros River in northern Greece on the border through September this year, Greek police estimated, the Wall Street Journal’s Nektaria Stamouli reported in a feature on the exodus, many of them judges, military personnel, civil servants or business people who have fallen under Turkish authorities’ suspicion, had their passports canceled and chosen an illegal route out.

Nearly 4,000 Turks have applied for asylum in Greece so far this year. But most Turkish arrivals don’t register their presence in Greece, planning instead to head deeper into Europe and further from Turkey, the site said, while Kathimerini reported about 30 Turks have been arriving on a daily basis since the failed coup, at the same time Greece is overwhelmed with more than 64,000 refugees and migrants who fled Turkey, where they had first gone to escape civil war and strife in the Middle East, most from Syria, as well as North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

The Journal outlined the stories of some of them, including Yunuz Cagar and his wife Cansu, followed smugglers on a muddy path along the river, evading fences and border guards until they reached Greece, the same area where many refugees and migrants, including children, have drowned.

Cagar, a 29-year-old court clerk, was living a quiet life with his family in a provincial town near Constantinople until the coup hit in July, 2016, followed by judges, colleagues and friends were arrested.

He lost his job and had to move the family into his parents’ attic. Cagar was arrested and spent four months in prison. His crime, he said, was downloading a messaging app, an act he says the state treated as evidence of supporting terrorism.

Erdogan said he’s going after followers of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen whom he accused of being behind the attempt to get him, including an assassination attempt the Turkish leader barely escaped that night.

The outflow has further agitated already strained relations between the countries with Erdogan provoking Greece in the Aegean and Cyprus where Turkish warships are trying to keep foreign energy companies from drilling for oil and gas in waters where they are licensed by the legitimate government, a member of the European Union that Turkey has been trying to join for more than 10 years.

NO LAST GOODBYE

“We didn’t say goodbye to anyone before leaving,” said Cagar, who is now in Athens trying to find some way to get to Germany. His wife and child already made it there with the help of smugglers who have demanded a hefty price. “We began our journey with 13,000 euros ($14,700) and I have 1,500 euros left,” he said.

Several thousand Turks, stripped of valid travel documents, are thought to be waiting in Athens for their chance to reach what they hope will be safety and better prospects in Europe’s North although the EU has closed its borders to other refugees and migrants at the same time the bloc’s leaders have praised Erdogan over a suspended swap deal to slow the flow.

Ahmed, a 30-year-old former F-16 pilot in the Turkish air force, spends his days talking to smugglers and trying to find a way out. “My dream is Canada, but the reality is Omonoia,” he said, referring to the filthy square in downtown Athens where migrants and smugglers mingle with drug dealers and a raft of criminals, the paper said.

He said he was ejected, arrested and beaten after being accused of ties to Gulen although Turkey needs fighter pilots with Erdogan sending them regularly to violate Greek airspace and engage in mock dogfights with Greek pilots.

Yilmaz Bilir, his wife Ozlem and their four children were on vacation when the coup attempt happened. Bilir, who worked at the information-technology department of Turkey’s foreign ministry, found out months later that he was suspected of Gulenist links, which he denied, but which led him to go into hiding in fear before neighbors reported him visiting his home.

After being released while awaiting trial, he decided to flee, making it to Germany where he applied for asylum but his family is stuck in Athens, hoping to join him.

She said she too, crossed the Evros. “It was an endless walk, but we were happy, because we were away together,” she said. “I was so stressed in Turkey that I couldn’t sleep well for months, but that first night in detention in Greece, I finally slept.”

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