Death and Desperation on Turkey’s EU Border

Muhammed and Madiha huddle with their children under a thermal blanket provided by IOM aid workers in Edirne. Photo: IOM/Müge Ayman

Edirne – Madiha Asif is pregnant with twins and suffering abdominal pain. She and her husband, Muhammed, sit huddled under a thermal blanket with their three children, who are wearing socks without shoes. 

“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 says. 

Muhammed shivers: “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.” 

Undeterred by the bitter cold, hundreds of migrants like Muhammed and Madiha have tried to cross from Turkey to Greece through the north-western province of Edirne over the last few weeks. Many end up in limbo, unable to go forward or back.  

A 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. 

Although unpublicized, the land route to Europe through Edirne has seen more migrants than the Eastern Mediterranean Route across the Aegean.  

In 2019, according to statistics by the Turkish government, over one third more migrants chose to try to reach Greece this way. The number of migrants who lost their lives crossing here in 2019 was 24, 14 of whom died along the Evros/Meriç River. All of the victims were men.  

In contrast, the same year, 34 migrants lost their lives in the Aegean – a majority of these dead were women and children. Just this month, the bodies of three young men were found at the border in Edirne, reportedly having died from hypothermia.  

At the request of local authorities, IOM began providing humanitarian aid to migrants in late December 2019. Yesterday (20/02) IOM’s team delivered 400 thermal blankets to migrants to prevent hypothermia during a winter that has been significantly colder than in previous years.  

IOM has also provided food, shelter, translation and counselling services. The latter includes legal advice, how to apply for international protection, and where to access basic services, alleviating the suffering of migrants and easing the burden on the already overstretched local responders. 

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 – likely over the 80,000 seen in 2019. 

IOM Turkey’s Chief of Mission Lado Gvilava remarked, “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.  

“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.”  

For more information please contact Lanna Walsh, IOM Turkey, Email: