MSF: Over 10,000 refugees cross the Evros to reach Greece in 1st half of 2018

The Greek-Turkish border line right on the bridge over the river Evros, in Thrace region. The grey line on the road marks the exact point where the two countries meet.

More than 10,000 migrants and refugees entered Greece in the first half of 2018 by  crossing the Evros River separating Greece from Turkey, compared to an estimated 7,500 crossings the year before, international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Thursday.

“The number of incoming refugees and migrants [via the Evros route] exceeded 10,000 in the first six months of the year, more than the total number of arrivals from Evros in 2017,” Ifigenia Anastasiadi, field coordinator for Greek Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), told Reuters, citing police data.

According to a report by Greek daily Ekathimerini, in a press release a day earlier the group announced it would start offering medical services in the Evros region to help address the soaring number of refugees and migrants entering from Turkey.

“Those who cross the border are held for some time in different facilities in the area, until the identification process is completed, having little or no access to healthcare,” MSF said. It said the four-month program would offer primary healthcare at the crowded Fylakio hot spot and other centers near the border, as state-run facilities in the region were understaffed.

The Evros River has seen migrant flows surge after a European Union-Turkey deal designed to plug the most popular route -– the Aegean Sea — was agreed. In the meantime, many Turks have sought to flee from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s post-coup crackdown. Several of them have drowned in the attempt.

Anastasiadi urged the government to send doctors and upgrade the Evros reception center, which she called “a forgotten place.” The UN refugee agency UNHCR also said earlier this year that the reception facility in the area is full beyond its 240-person capacity.

It can take five to six minutes to paddle across the Evros River. But its fast-moving waters are treacherous, and some people have perished on the way. The main flow across the Mediterranean to European Union countries now comes from north Africa, running at more than 50,000 so far this year. At least 1,500 migrants perished trying to make the crossing, according to UN figures.

Brussels said on Wednesday that an additional 37,5 million euros in emergency assistance would be disbursed to improve reception conditions for migrants in Greece. The European Commission said Greek authorities would receive 31,1 million euros to support the “provisional services” offered to migrants, including healthcare, interpretation and food, as well as to improve the infrastructure of Fylakio.

Thousands of people have fled Turkey due to a massive witch-hunt carried out by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government against sympathizers of the Gülen movement in the wake of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Many have tried to flee Turkey via illegal means as the government had cancelled the passports of thousands of people.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since the coup attempt in July 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organisation,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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