The Migrants' Tale: The struggle to cross into Greece

Kastanies (Greece) (AFP) –


"We want to get to Athens, after that we'll see." That was the message from four Guinean migrants after they managed to smuggle themselves across the border from Turkey into Greece -- just a few of the thousands attempting to do the same thing.

A few hours later the cold and exhausted travellers were arrested by Greek soldiers -- their time as free men in the European Union cut short by a dawn patrol at Sofiko village, in northeast Greece.

The four Guineans were shoved into the back of a police van and driven away, and neither police nor government officials were willing to say where they would be taken.

Greece decided on Sunday to suspend all new asylum claims for a month, responding to Friday's announcement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that his country would no longer stop migrants heading for Europe.

Since then, thousands of migrants and refugees, including Afghans, Syrians and Iraqis, have massed at the Turkish border seeking entry into Greece, and therefore the European Union.

The four determined Guineans had spent their first night in the EU at an abandoned half-built house, without windows or doors, and slept on the concrete floor, without a blanket between them, in freezing conditions.

- 'We hate you!' -

They said they had travelled from Istanbul to the border after hearing that the Turkish authorities wouldn't prevent them from crossing over.

"It was front page news in Turkey, on the internet on television, everywhere!" one of them explained.

Dressed in a red jacket and wool hat he had tears in his eyes, caused by a glacial wind whipping across his face.

They had broken across the border on Sunday and trudged to Sofiko, suffering the hostilities of locals as they marched through.

"They fired a shot in the air and we finally found refuge" in the abandoned construction site, another said in French.

Acil and Mithra, an Iranian couple in their twenties, have also encountered animosity among Greek residents.

"Yesterday evening some men told us; "Get out, we hate you!" Acil recounted

Looking drawn and distraught he stares ahead for a moment, a dazed look on his face and his exhausted wife by his side.

"Now I don't know what to do. We can't take a taxi and my wife cannot walk any further," he sighs.

Deprived of even the most basic hygiene, Mithra displays a sodden pair of pink canvas shoes, covered in mud.

Then the couple walks away along the asphalt road, hand in hand.

They both carry a small bag on their back. Ahead, if they don't get arrested, lies many more hours of walking.

The preferred destination? "The Netherlands or Austria". They sound like they are picking a summer holiday destination.

However there is one thing much more important than seeing the canals of Amsterdam or the Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna.

"We are seeking freedom," Acil says.