Vigilantes blocking migrants at the Greece-Turkey border

We learned last week that Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to punish the European Union by opening up his border with Greece and allowing a flood of migrants to swarm northward. Adopting a not very globalist response, Greece quickly moved to seal the border from their side and keep the flood of humanity out. But it’s a big border and keeping it sealed is quite the task, so reports of Syrian and Iraqi migrants entering the country were common over the past several days.

It seems that the citizens of Greece weren’t satisfied with the government response and some of them began taking matters into their own hands. Groups of vigilantes have begun patrolling some sections of the borders and turning back migrants, sometimes beating them down in the process. The situation on that border is now pretty much falling into chaos. (Boston Globe)

The farmers and pensioners wore black clothes and heavy boots, imitating Greece’s special forces, and trod along a rural road on a night patrol looking for migrants trying to cross the northern land border with Turkey. “We’ll get you next time!” they shouted at a small group of men who had made it over and fled.

Two hundred miles to the south, on the border island of Lesbos, locals angrily blocked a dinghy full of migrants from Turkey, including a pregnant woman and children, from getting off on a pier.

“No more!” they yelled, cursing.

On land and at sea, one thing is clear along Greece’s meandering border with Turkey: This is not 2015 anymore.

My, how things have changed in five short years. As the report notes, back in 2015 the Greeks were generally welcoming of the migrants fleeing the wars in Syria and Iraq, helping them find their way to refugee camps and then on to the north, deeper into Europe. The Greeks on the Isle of Lesbos were even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

But now, after more than a million migrants have flooded Europe, straining resources and bringing increased incidents of terror attacks, people seem to have had enough. Greece has suspended all asylum requests for the time being and is attempting to turn all of these people back toward Turkey. And the civilians aren’t just attacking the migrants. There have been reports of vigilantes attacking journalists and aid workers who they accuse of encouraging the migrants to come and facilitating their journies.

While there’s plenty of tension and trouble around the rest of the world to divert our attention, this will always be one border to keep an eye on. It’s not as if the Greeks and the Turks haven’t had something of a “history” when it comes to border issues (to put it mildly). They’ve been at war with each other off and on for almost all of recorded history. That finally changed in the 20th century when Turkey was angling to join NATO and pushing for entrance into the European Union.

But in recent years, Erdogan has been cozying up to Russia, China, and Iran far more than his supposed NATO allies. The Syrian refugee situation is only inflaming the relationship even more now that Turkey has stopped holding up their end of the bargain. A fight that’s starting out as a battle to block immigrants could, at some point, run the risk of open conflict between two traditional enemies.

Just as a brief reminder of the historical context, keep in mind that the last war between these two wasn’t exactly in ancient times. The Greco-Turkish war raged from 1919 to 1922. They were fighting over disputed lands that have been bones of contention since the earliest days of the Ottoman Empire. Some people just seem to really be able to hold a grudge and the bad blood existing on both sides of that border has never entirely vanished.

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