Turkish authorities bus Syrian refugees to camps after they were stopped by police attempting to walk to the Turkish-Greek border at Edirne | Photo: EPA/Sedat Suna
Turkish authorities bus Syrian refugees to camps after they were stopped by police attempting to walk to the Turkish-Greek border at Edirne | Photo: EPA/Sedat Suna

Migrants stranded in the Turkish province of Edirne at the border with Greece face "death and desperation," according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Hundreds of migrants have attempted to reach Greece from Turkey through the northwestern province of Edirne over the last few weeks, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement published on February 21. 

The UN agency stressed that many end up in limbo, unable to go forward or back. The majority are young single men who have travelled by land from as far away as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. 

"With little food and money, they are ill-prepared for the long journey and harsh winter conditions'', IOM said. 

The stories of migrants stuck in Edirne

Among the stranded migrants is Madiha Asif who is pregnant with twins and is suffering from abdominal pain. IOM said she and her husband, Muhammed, are stuck in Edirne with their three children. "It's been a long journey from home and my children are freezing. In this cold winter, they are wearing only socks and my youngest child has a blood clot in his eye. I am afraid that my twins might not survive," the mother was quoted as saying by IOM. 

Her husband told IOM: "We came to Turkey from Pakistan a month ago and want to go to Europe. We cannot go back to Pakistan because our house was burned down by criminal groups and we were repeatedly threatened." 

Most media reports focus on migrant arrivals from Turkey to Greece via sea. But the land route to Europe through Edirne has actually seen more migrants than the Eastern Mediterranean Route across the Aegean Sea, IOM said. 

In 2019, according to official data provided by the Turkish government, over a third of all migrants tried to reach Greece through the province. A reported 24 migrants died crossing this part of the border, including 14 who drowned while crossing the Evros/Meric river, according to the Turkish government. All victims were men. Meanwhile, 34 migrants reportedly died in the Aegean in 2019. The majority were women and children. 

The dead bodies of three youths were found this month at the border of Edirne. The victims reportedly died of hypothermia, IOM said. 

Migrant population in Edirne expected to rise

At the request of local authorities, IOM began providing humanitarian aid to migrants in late December 2019. On February 20, IOM's team reportedly delivered 400 thermal blankets to migrants to prevent hypothermia during a winter that has been significantly colder than in previous years. 

As the number of migrants trying to cross from Edirne has steadily increased over the past few years, numbers are expected to continue to be high this year, the UN agency said. In 2019, IOM counted  80,000 migrants attempting to cross the border via Edirne. 

''We are witnessing acts of human desperation every day. Acts that are in pursuit of what most people in the world take for granted – a home, economic opportunity – a chance to live life. Greater assistance is needed for migrants who find themselves stranded or in limbo," said IOM Turkey's Chief of Mission Lado Gvilav. ''Vulnerable migrants like Muhammed and Madiha in Edirne are often overshadowed by the desperation in the Aegean Sea – but they also greatly need and deserve support."

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