The situation in the no-mans-land between Turkey and Greece is becoming increasingly more violent and desperate for the refugees. Reporters on a tour heard gunshots despite the Greek government denying the use of anything except tear gas to stop the refugees.
For over an hour, the sound of people trying to direct each other in multiple languages through farms, woodlands, and across riverbanks was punctuated by shots. First it sounded like single rifle blasts, then came bursts of three, and then longer, heavier automatic fire.
However, when Papastathis appeared on Wednesday afternoon to direct us to the new location, he denied absolutely that we had heard what we heard.
“Only tear gas is being fired,” he insisted to a group of a dozen journalists on the tracks.
Turkey accused Greece of killing a Syrian man and wounding five other people. The next day footage of Greek soldiers apparently firing in the direction of migrants on the border surfaced online. And more signs of the Greeks using live fire on migrants and asylum seekers could be found at a makeshift camp for people waiting to cross the Evros River near the Turkish city of Edirne.
Greece is becoming more and more desperate to stop what has to be considered a Turkish-inspired invasion of its territory. And since the government has been ineffective, armed private citizens have taken matters into their own hands.
The BBC has encountered members of self-styled militias who carry out night-time armed patrols in Greek border towns looking for migrants.
“There are such militia along the entire region,” said Yannis Laskarakis, a newspaper publisher in the city of Alexandroupoli who has received death threats for speaking out against armed vigilantes.
“We have seen them with our own eyes, arresting migrants, treating them badly and if someone dares to help them, he has the same fate.”
And the vigilantes aren’t only going after refugees. Aid workers and the press have also been assaulted.
On Lesbos, young men have targeted reporters and NGOs because they perceive them as being sympathetic to the refugees’ plight.
It is not clear if they are local or outsiders from the mainland, possibly connected to far-Right organisations.
On Friday there were reports that members of German and Austrian far-Right groups had arrived on the island.
Their presence was deeply disconcerting for aid workers and journalists who already feel they are being subjected to a witch-hunt.
I doubt whether a lot of these simple Greek villagers are members of a far-right organization. Their motivations are simple; their families are at risk and their property is being invaded by foreigners. For them, there are no grand geopolitical issues involved. They are protecting theirs and their own from harm.
But with the rest of the EU cheerleading from the sidelines — while not lifting a finger to help except to open their wallets — Greece finds itself alone and facing a potential onslaught of 100,000 people.
The EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday, “This border is not only a Greek border, it is also a European border, she said. “I thank Greece for being our European shield in these times.” If it’s a “European border” shouldn’t the European Union give Greece a hand in protecting it? Or will EU nations continue to cower in fear of another migrant crisis? The European left wants the EU to open its heart to the newcomers.
But the rest of Europe remains unconvinced.