Turkey: Education unionists call for immediate action to save migrants at the border with Greece

published 13 March 2020 updated 24 March 2020

Education International’s affiliate in Turkey, Eğitim-Sen, is deeply concerned about the migrants’ living conditions at the border with Greece. It is calling for urgent action – including assistance from trade unions - to help them.

Eğitim-Sen’s call for action to help migrants on the Turkish-Greek border follows a visit by union representatives to the area on 6 March. As part of a delegation formed by the Turkish Confederation of Public Employees Trade Unions (KESK), Eğitim Sen President Feray Aytekin Aydoğan and Eğitim Sen General Secretary of Higher Education and Education Özgür Bozdoğan visited the Turkish city of Edirne in an area close to the border with Greece.

This visit gave the delegation the opportunity to listen to migrants and take stock of their living conditions.

Harsh conditions

Eğitim-Sen’s representatives acknowledged that it was not possible to determine the exact number of migrants at the border. The migrants are waiting to cross the border to enter Central European countries. Assessing the numbers of migrants is difficult because of restrictions and prohibitions decided by the local administrators and security forces.

Migrants have gathered at two main areas in Edirne: the area at the border between Turkey and Greece, and the city bus terminal. Families with small children spend the night at the bus station.

According to the education unionists, the living conditions of the migrants are difficult and unhealthy. The number of migrants, especially children, in need of medical care cannot be underestimated. There is a lack of running water or any other hygiene facilities for daily personal needs. Migrants live outdoors throughout the day and night and, because of the weather conditions, this can lead to medical problems.

Eğitim-Sen’s representatives welcomed the fact that migrants’ nutritional needs were being met, thanks to volunteers. However, they highlighted that this help was sometimes prevented by the local authorities or security forces. Local sections of Eğitim Sen have taken responsibility for providing and distributing aid for the migrants.

It was not possible to observe the situation directly on the border line, as no one, including the media, has been allowed to enter that area.

On the educational side, most of the children waiting to cross the border were of school age.

Call for trade unions’ international solidarity

Eğitim-Sen’s leaders have made the following recommendations:• An initiative for migrants must be taken, and trade unions should take the lead.• The Turkish and Greek trade union confederations affiliated to the European Trade Union Confederation, as well as the education unions affiliated to the European Trade Union Committee for Education and Education International should quickly organise actions to raise public awareness on this issue.• Any efforts undertaken must focus on providing migrants with the necessary resources, starting with children and those in need of medical care.• An international discussion on the living conditions of the migrants should be jointly organised by Turkish and Greek trade unions.• International organisations must be called upon to take responsibility for assistance.• Public facilities both in Turkey and Greece should be used as accommodation for migrants.

“Our visit to the border area was necessary, as we felt we had to observe the conditions immigrants are living in. Without observing, witnessing the real story, it is indeed impossible to decide on what to do,” reported Eğitim Sen General Secretary of Higher Education and Education, Özgür Bozdoğan.

“Immigrants and refugees are victims of political realities, wars, poverty and the unequal distribution of resources. Being an immigrant or a refugee is not a choice, but rather an identity imposed by despair,” Bozdoğan added, stressing that his union strongly believes in solidarity with the oppressed. “We think that we should not forget that immigrants and refugees have rights, and that advocating for these rights is an essential humanitarian duty for all of us.”

Trade unions, especially in Turkey and Greece, have a responsibility to try and find solutions to solve the problem, he went on saying. Bozdoğan also called on the international trade union movement, due to its nature and underlaying principles, to do its part quickly, “as raising awareness, alerting public opinion, putting pressure on politicians are some of the things that we in the international trade union movement can easily do”.