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The writer in real life camo. 2014.

I Patrolled Greece’s Border Fence With Turkey, While Refugees Drowned In The Aegean

For four months, I patrolled the border fence that separates Europe and Turkey

Efthymis Angeloudis
Apr 18, 2018 · 14 min read
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Greece–Turkey land border, border fence in red. source: wikipedia.org

My first guard duty on the border

The two hours of my “German shift” just did not want to go by. Manically, I looked at my watch every few minutes. Behind me, the moonlight shimmered on the barbed wire rolls of the ubiquitous border fence. Finally, I saw that it was 15 minutes until the change of guard. Go back to the barracks, lock the weapon up at the camp’s arsenal, pee, take off the uniform, lay finally in bed and hope that the smell of sweat and wet socks is not that bad this time. With some luck, I would be able to sleep for another hour and a half, until the bugle wake up call would tear us out of bed at 6 o’clock.

Better in the army than in a call center

“Please appear on September 13, 2014 at 09.00 am at the 124th Basic Training Camp in Tripoli, Arcadia”, read the red paper handed over to me by a policeman outside my front door. Cold sweat ran down my spine. Could I not have objected? Well, objecting is still hard in Greece. But surely some excuse could have been found, in order to be deemed ineligible. Psychological problems, depression, suicidal thoughts. Old, proven tricks that had been used in the past by others and mostly worked.

In exile

Exile. That was the mood on the military bus, that took us to the camp in Evros. The 650-kilometer journey from Ioannina to the regional district of Evros began at 4 o’clock in the morning. I could only see sad, disturbed faces around me. A 19-year-old boy sobbed quietly in the last row. Another desperately tried to arrange his immediate transfer to Thessaloniki on the phone with some influential relative. Most only glared, depressed, out the window into the eternal gray of Greece’s cold north.

The biggest hole in Europe’s border

This narrow corridor had been called the largest hole in Europe’s border before the border fence was built. Even the EU had to send European border guards from Frontex to the region to guard it. German and French policemen patrolled the fields and bogs of Evros just as their Greek counterparts. According to the Greek police, in 2011 a total of 54,974 refugees illegally crossed the border. In July 2012 alone there were 6,914 people. Then the construction of the border fence started. In November of the same year, when the fence was finished, only 71 people crossed the border there.

Arrests of illegal migrants at the Greek land border

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Arrests of illegal migrants at Greece’s land border. Source: Hellenic Police

Anti-racist at the border

A 33-year-old city councillor from Orestiada, named Ilias Aggelakoudis, shares this opinion about the fence. He is a member of an activist organization named “Stop Evros Wall” and co-founder of the Anti-racist Festival of the Northern Greek region. While as a “loyal soldier” I guarded the border, Ilias stood with hundreds of demonstrators 800 meters away in the small border town of Kastanies and demanded the demolition of the border fence. The activists gathered there three times in 2014, each time being stopped by the police from reaching the fence.

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Stop Evros Wall Demonstration in the border town Kastanies

Alarm on New Year’s Eve

My weeks at the border fence went by as uneventfully as dreary. The night guard’s duty and patrols took turns with a feeling of exhaustion and a sense of hopelessness. The cold nested in our socks and our combat boots. No one was allowed to sleep during the day. Our eyelids just shut while eating or talking to one another.

Election campaign at the border fence

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I greet Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on the chain
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The Flooded Evros River. Photo: wikipedia.org

One last time back

The extremely cold winter was followed by a softer March. The day of my release from duty approached, and although I was stationed back at the base and was only pushing papers at an office, I wanted to see the border one last time. I jumped in for a colleague and drove with a sergeant to the fence.



AthensLive

AthensLive is a non-profit, on-the-ground source for…

Efthymis Angeloudis

Written by

Journalist based in Berlin and Athens, politics, finance, refugees, urban planing and housing | twitter: @EfthyAngeloudis

AthensLive

AthensLive is a non-profit, on-the-ground source for stories from Athens and throughout Greece.

Efthymis Angeloudis

Written by

Journalist based in Berlin and Athens, politics, finance, refugees, urban planing and housing | twitter: @EfthyAngeloudis

AthensLive

AthensLive is a non-profit, on-the-ground source for stories from Athens and throughout Greece.

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