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A Rare Look At Europe's Most Violent Border Crossing

Many migrants want to enter the EU via the Greece-Turkey border. Time and again, it is the scene of violence, and the EU border guard Frontex is also said to be involved. Die Welt managed to visit a place that is off-limits for journalists and usually remains hidden from the public.

photo of Greek riot police patrol near Evros river, on the border with Turke

Greek riot police patrol near Evros river, on the border with Turkey

Carolina Drüten

EVROS — A photo, 92 naked migrants, some of them wounded. Did Turkey force people across the land border into Greece? That's what the Greek government is saying. Is Greece covering up its own crimes against refugees with the photo? That is what Ankara claims.

The border river Evros is one of the routes for migrants who want to go to the EU – and time and again the scene of violence and violations of the law. The EU-funded border protection agency Frontex is said to be involved in these activities. On the other side of the border, in Turkey, migrants are used as leverage.

The Greek-Turkish land border made headlines in early 2020 after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unilaterally declared it open. Thousands of migrants rushed to Greece; Greek border guards fended them off with stun grenades and tear gas.

At the time, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said two sentences essential to understanding his government's migration policy: "This is no longer a refugee problem. This is a blatant attempt by Turkey to use desperate people to push its geopolitical agenda."

And according to the Greeks, when asymmetric warfare is the problem, humanitarian aid is not the answer. Defense is.

The photo with the naked migrants had been published by Greek authorities and media. Some of the people reportedly said they were taken to the river in three vehicles owned by the Turkish authorities and placed in rubber boats to cross the river. Some are said to have suffered injuries, according to a statement from the Greek police. Athens and Ankara blamed each other for the incident.

Journalists banned from Europe's border

What is going on on the ground? Journalists are banned from entering the immediate border. The Greek government has declared the area a military exclusion zone. Only individual scenes reach the public; for example, when media and non-governmental organizations publish the testimonies of people who have been victims of violence. They are stuck on the Evros River on uninhabited islets without drinking water and cannot go to Greece or back to Turkey for days.

People who try to cross the border die again and again

In the end, it is often masked men who force them back to Turkey from the Greek side. This is what migrants report again and again. According to Greek information, more than 36,000 migrants were prevented from crossing the river border in August alone. But by what means, no one wants to say publicly. Greece denies any wrongdoing.

Green MEP Erik Marquardt speaks of a "wall of lies." "We know that people at the external borders are not only denied access to asylum, but are also treated in an inhumane way," he says. The political goal of reducing the number of asylum applications, he said, completely ignores people's dignity.

Migrants walk on a train rail near the Evros River in Greece

Dimitris Tosidis/Xinhua/ZUMA

No one knows the number of corpses

People who try to cross the border die again and again. Forensics professor Pavlos Pavlidis examines their bodies at the Alexandroupolis University Hospital. The Greek police bring him the bodies, some of which have been exposed to the elements for months and are barely identifiable. There are refrigerated containers in front of the building.

Using personal items and DNA tests, Pavlidis is trying to give them back their names. A lighter, a bracelet. Via Whatsapp, he is in touch with relatives in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, who are worried about the whereabouts of their loved ones. Last year, Pavlidis had 47 bodies on the table. This year, there were 51 by mid-September alone. Only three cases were criminal, he says; most of the wounds on the bodies were postmortem. How many bodies are never found, no one knows.

There are those who die. There are those who are forcibly returned to Turkey without the possibility of asylum. And there are those who are registered and come to a refugee camp. The lucky ones, you might think, but it hardly feels that way to the people in the camp.

The Fylakio camp, 15 kilometers from the border with Turkey, is surrounded by barbed wire and high fences. At the entrance, there is a sign: financed by the European Union. Three Green MEPs are visiting from Brussels to get a picture of the situation. Actually, they also wanted to see the Evros, i.e. the immediate border with Turkey, but at the last moment even they were denied access.

The camp director, Konstantinos Dimitriades, receives them in a white shirt. The migrants, he explains, must sign a consent form upon arrival that their freedom of movement will be restricted. It's a closed camp. Migrants stay here for a maximum of 25 days, Dimitriades says. Their freedoms can't be restricted longer than that.

As he tours the camp, the hallways are empty. People are housed in individual compartments divided by wire mesh: minors here, family there, those in quarantine there. They rattle the fences and shout in Arabic. Dimitriades assures the parliamentarians and journalists traveling with them, "You can freely look around the camp and talk to people."

Protesting against migrant and refugee deaths in Istanbul, Turkey

Hakan Akgun/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The EU involved in a cover-up

But in the end, we are not allowed to look around so freely. If we approach the fences, the camp director or his representative will intervene. But one time we are faster. A boy shouts, "Don't believe them, they're not telling the truth!" He points to a girl's feet, which are covered with a pus-filled rash. Is there no doctor? Yes, he says, but he wouldn't give any medicine.

They wanted to get out, the boy says. He and his family have been in the camp for two months. Didn't the director just say that 25 days was the maximum? "An exception," says Dimitriades, who has hurried over and interrupted the conversation. He says the boy is lying. We are not allowed to ask any more questions.

Protecting its external border costs the EU a lot of money. Greece, for example, has received €3.39 billion for migration management since 2015, including €450 million from a pot for internal security and border protection (as of the beginning of the year). All measures financed with money from this fund must respect fundamental rights and human dignity. That is what the regulations say.

Frontex has described any misconduct as 'practices of the past.'

The border protection agency Frontex is also active in Greece — and has come under massive criticism. A report by the EU's anti-corruption agency OLAF says that Frontex staff was involved in covering up illegal deportations of migrants from Greece to Turkey. It was under wraps for a long time until the German “FragDenStaat” (Ask The State) portal recently published it together with Spiegel (a German weekly) and "Lighthouse Reports" (an investigative journalism nonprofit).

Based on the evidence collected, OLAF concludes that the accusations against Frontex "have been proven." Officials had committed "serious misconduct and other irregularities" by covering up pushbacks, failing to investigate or not handling them properly. In one case, for example, a Frontex aircraft moved away from the scene "to avoid witnessing incidents in the Aegean Sea." A few days after the report came to light, the border agency described any misconduct as "practices of the past."

On the day MEPs visit the Fylakio camp, Frontex officials are also present. Their full names may not be quoted. We ask how border crossings are prevented in practice. "All the information we have, we pass on to our Greek colleagues. We are never involved in preventing a border crossing," says an official.

The Greeks would then check people's documents and register them. But what happens to those who are denied entry? How do you turn people back? Another Frontex official weighs in.

"This concerns operational details," he says. That means: it's confidential.

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LGBTQ+ International: Gender Recognition Changes In Scotland, Same-Sex Ice-Skating — And Other News

Skate Canada has announced it is now allowing “two skaters” to compete in the ice dance and pairs figure skating competitions

Welcome to Worldcrunch’s LGBTQ+ International. We bring you up-to-speed each week on a topic you may follow closely at home, but can now see from different places and perspectives around the world. Discover the latest news on everything LGBTQ+ — from all corners of the planet. All in one smooth scroll!

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

TW: This content may address topics and include references to violence that some may find distressing.

🌐 5 things to know right now

• Poland to veto discriminatory law: Polish President Andrzej Duda said he would veto a controversial bill that limits access to comprehensive sex ed and anti-discrimination classes in schools, after weeks of protests led by students and activists.

• Protests against homosexuality trial in Tunisia: Activists gathered on Dec. 19 in front of a court in Kairouan, Tunisia, to denounce the trial of six men prosecuted for homosexuality — which is punishable by up to three years in prison in the country.

• Scotland to introduce “gender recognition” changes: The Scottish government has introduced a bill to reform how transgender people can change the sex on their birth certificate, in favor of a self-declaration system that removes the need for a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

• Anti-LGBTQ+ Ghana churches received millions in Western aid: An exclusive investigation by CNN shows how over the past six years, some Western governments spent millions aiding churches in Ghana that have a long history of anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and activities.

• Canada okays same-sex ice-skating teams to compete: Skate Canada, the national governing body for figure skating, has announced it is now allowing “two skaters” to compete in the ice dance and pairs figure skating competitions at the most elite levels of the sport.

🇦🇷🎧 From church choir to DJ icon: the singular rise of Anita B Queen

Alex Zani, writing for Buenos-Aires-based news agency Agencias Presentes, draws the portrait of Ana Belén Kim, daughter of conservative Korean immigrants to Argentina and a rising star in Latin America's electronic music club scene who's impossible to categorize.

In a world that insists on labels, Ana Belén Kim, also known as Anita B Queen, considers herself a "degenerate." That is: someone impossible to classify. The 26-year-old daughter of a Catholic mother and an Evangelical father, both of whom were Korean immigrants who came to Argentina in their early childhood, her musical career began at Cheil, the First Korean Presbyterian Church in the country.

Anita was still a teenager and was surprised to see so many instruments she could use. She taught herself how to play and was soon in charge of the youth band of the church. When she turned 18, her life turned upside down as she questioned her values and her sexuality.

“Imagine, a lifelong Christian girl, growing up in a small, closed, conservative and orthodox Korean community, trying to understand what she was feeling and trying to accept herself.” That year she left the church, withdrew from her peers, separated from her boyfriend, and began dating other women.

Photo of Anita B Queen with other musicians while in Madrid on Europe tour

Anita B Queen with other musicians on Europe Trip in Madrid — Photo: anitabqueen

"It was at that moment that I started working as a DJ, making electronic music, learning from local and foreign DJs who, without knowing it, were my mentors." It was a world commanded by men into which Anita stormed confidently, without asking for permission. "It's simple," she says. "Breaking through is a matter of attitude.”

Read the full story on Worldcrunch.com

👉 Otherwise

• LGBTQ Nation focuses on Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the Russian composer of Swan Lake and Nutcracker fame, and how his being homosexual was carefully from Russian history.

• 76Crimes highlights the challenges transgender Pakistanis have to overcome today, faced with both a strong conservative Muslim society and a groundbreaking transgender rights law.

• “You've probably heard of the male gaze, but what exactly is the lesbian gaze?” asks Pride.

• T’is the season for queer couples to try to survive Christmas with the family ...

• Feeling nostalgic and looking to binge some good flicks for the holidays? Here’s a nice list of 17 Gay Period Dramas That Will Take You Back in Time.

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