The Lone Gatekeepers of Europe: Living on the Edge



By now it has become clear that the effort of migrants to enter Greece by force through the Evros border was a literal invasion attempt orchestrated by Turkey. Yet the evil scheme of Recep Tayyip Recep Erdogan backfired, with the whole world recognizing his aims.

At the same time, the world recognized that Greeks, once again, acted with great courage as the literal gatekeepers of the continent of Europe. Much like they did 2,500 years ago against the Persian armies.

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It was not only the army and police, however, that stood tall against the hordes of young, angry men who tried by any means to tear down the fence while firing flares at the Greek citizens defending it. Every man and every woman of the region of Evros participated in this uneven fight.

Uneven, because the assailants often used children as Trojan Horses — and even as human shields — in their attempted breach of the European border.

The struggle on the islands was equally uneven. Escorted by Turkish Coast Guard boats into Greece’s territorial waters, overcrowded dinghies were intentionally capsized so that the passengers would have to be rescued by the Greek Coast Guard, fishermen and NGO volunteers and taken onto dry land.

Nevertheless, the people of Greece’s frontier fought bravely to keep this orchestrated invasion at bay.

At the same time, despite the ugliness all around them, they never forgot the Greek spirit of philotimo and the warm hospitality for those who truly deserve to be granted asylum, such as the displaced families from Syria.

Equally important in the fight the Greek police and Army engaged in on the front line, was the support of ordinary people, young and old. Like the yiayia Anastasia Farmakidou, who spent days making pites for the soldiers and policemen who were guarding the border 24/7 in the late winter cold.

According to her daughter, Maria Housidou, yiayia Anastasia stood on her feet for three solid days and made 50-60 pites for the border guards. “Yiayia is all for love and giving,” she told Greek Reporter.

Fani Baharidou, a proud Evros woman who is president of the Nea Vyssa Women’s Association, put it as simply as possible: “We are frontier people and we guard Thermopylae.”

Meanwhile, the rest of Greece did not forget the defenders of the European border. Truckloads of food, water, medical supplies and hygiene products arrived continuously into Evros from all corners of Greece.

For almost a week, the Greeks fought to push back the migrants who were determined to violate the border, urged by the Turkish propaganda that flatly told them that Greece would open its borders. Some onlookers even witnessed some being pushed by force to the wire fence by Turkish police, and there was video evidence of a Turkish man forcing migrants off from a bus at the point of a gun near the Evros border.

And to add insult to injury, Turkish police aided the potential invaders by throwing tons of tear gas at the Greek side as a diversion. At the same time the Ankara propaganda machine created fake videos of Greeks beating migrants, Greek soldiers shooting at refugees, and so on.

On the maritime front, islanders remained stoic in this uneven, asymmetrical battle. “We are past the point of fear,” Lesvos fisherman Antonis Michalis told Greek Reporter. After all, for the islanders, this is a battle that has been going on uninterrupted for over five years now, due to their proximity to the Turkish coast.

Boatloads of undocumented migrants and refugees still land on the island every day. The camps are way past the point of simple overcrowding.

Many migrants, out of desperation, resort to petty crime. Others commit more serious crimes.

Lesvos residents have shown their hospitality, generosity and warmth far too many times. And now they have reached the end of their tether. “When people start to react, it’s like the Greek saying: ‘The voice of the people is like the wrath of God'”, says Father Komninos Vranis, a Lesvos priest who has served as a chaplain.

“Greece is not inhumane and is not disrespectful (to migrants). But we are all alone, and we need some help,” says U.S.-born teacher Despoina Gabriel, who is working as a volunteer on Lesvos.

The country’s European partners give lip service to this crisis, repeating every so often that Greece is Europe’s border, and when Greeks protect their border, they do it for Europe as well.

Yet there is very little actual help. There are comparatively very few Frontex staff, and not nearly enough vehicles, boats and other equipment which could help curb the influx.

Father Komninos sums up the lack of help that Greece so direly needs right now with a few simple words, pleading “Please, don’t forget about us. God bless you and your families.”

The frontier Greeks have learned to go it alone. Like the old lady of Ro in recent years. Or like Leonidas and his 300 Spartans many centuries ago. So, for now, they will remain as the lone gatekeepers of Europe.