The narrative that Syrians are “fleeing war” has been shattered again as dozens of migrants in Greece pay smugglers to return them to Turkey and Syria. Living safely in camps, they say Europe isn’t the “better life” they hoped for.
In the migrants’ own words, none of those spoken to claimed they sought safety in Europe from the civil war. Instead, the people much of the media and political class call “refugees” are angry at not being allowed to cross to rich northern European countries where they will be given money and housing.
One such migrant, a 21 year old art student from Damascus, said he is “very very angry with the Europeans”. After spending a couple of months in Idomeni he decided to return home, saying:
“I want to go to Syria and continue my studies at the art school. Even if they open borders, I will still go. I am very angry with the Europeans because of the situation in which we live,” Die Welt reported.
The student says he plans to cross first to Turkey, then to Lebanon and from there, Damascus. Attracted by German chancellor Angela Merkel’s invitation to Syrians he added: “I wanted to legally go to Germany, but now I am forced to return in this way in my country.”
Every night, groups of migrants gather at the Greek border town of Didymoteicho and wait in small tents for their chance to cross again to Turkey.
Another migrant, disillusioned with living in a refugee camp rather than in a house, and provided with pocket money by European taxpayers is al-Dschassem. Before leaving for Europe he’d been a hairdresser in Damascus, which has seen little fighting. “I will go to Turkey, I do not want Europe,” the 27 year old Syrian told reporters.
He and his family lived in Idomeni’s makeshift refugee camp for months before moving to an official camp. Upset at living in the safety of a refugee camp rather than in luxury, al-Dschassem and his family “gave up their dream of living in Germany.”
Al-Dschassem “did not expect” to have to live in a refugee camp, he said. “We thought [Europe] would be humane and we could take care of ourselves and our children, to protect them.”
“We have seen the opposite. Europe doesn’t spare a thought for us.”
The family decided to go to Turkey, where the father’s brother lives, but like many others they realised this is not easy. The legal way is “long and bureaucratic” which is why so many migrants are resorting to smugglers. While passage to Europe costs thousands of euros, the return journey costs just a few hundred. Die Welt remarked that it is “dangerous” for these economic migrants to head home as their money helps fund the criminal smugglers.
Ilias Akidis, head of the police union in Didymoteicho, said that he has observed a reverse flow of migrants towards their northern border.”The Evros [river] at this time of year very dangerous,” says Mr. Akidis. “Because of the rains, the water level is very high.”
The town’s deputy mayor, Ioannis Topaloudis, explains that around 20 to 40 people are breaking over the Macedonian border each day. Police said around 150 people have been arrested trying to return to Turkey in the past two months.
Recently the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that illegal migrants can’t be jailed as they have “done nothing wrong”. Seemingly the ECJ has no problem with stopping migrants who try to leave the continent, however.