EDIRNE, TURKEY —
Saad Ali hid his face behind a checkered scarf as he talked to the media. He feared for half of his family, who were still in a Syrian area controlled by Islamic State. Next to him a man in a white shirt, who refused to give his name, said he had attempted to reach Greece by sea four times. During one of those attempts, his boat capsized, but he survived.
Both said they intend to stay in the Turkish border province of Edirne, bordering Greece and Bulgaria, until Turkey opens a land route to Europe.
Out in the park next to a sports stadium, some migrants made a grave under posters addressed to Europe that read “EU, save childhood, open the border,” and “I do not want to die [at] sea.”
The second one is a referral to the many deaths resulting from dangerous journeys many had taken in small, often inflatable and highly risky boats, from Turkey to Greece by sea. In the process, they paid thousands of dollars to human smugglers.
Turkey's government is hosting almost 2 million migrants - mostly Syrians. Many waited patiently for months or sometimes years in Turkey for the war in Syria to stop. Now, their hopes are fading.
Migrants, mostly Syrians, walk in a stadium used for traditional Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling, waiting to cross to Europe near Turkey’s western border with Greece and Bulgaria, in Edirne, Turkey, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.
Some like Mohammad Ibrahim think the war might last for decades. Others said they had tried to make a life for themselves in Turkey, but failed.
“I mean there are engineers in here,” Jalal Karmasiah said pointing around him. “There are doctors in here but they couldn’t [get] a job. They couldn’t even [open] a small house to keep his family safe.”
He said he will stay in Turkey if the country offers him a future, but he cannot see himself working long hours for very little pay for the rest of his life.
He took 55 euros out of his pocket and held them up. This is all he was able to save after nine months of hard work - and he wants to use it for a bus ticket to Europe where he is certain a better life awaits him.
Those like him waiting in Edirne in hopes of a better future in Europe include families, a 21-day old baby, and a young man in a wheelchair.
Inside the stadium, freshly washed clothes hang all around. A group of children plays football in the grass usually used for oil wrestling matches.
A group of young men sit huddled in a corner. One of them digs out his degrees from his backpack. He had completed a degree in software engineering from Syria and was working on another one in architecture when the war forced him to move. He had applied to Turkish universities, but could not get in. Before setting out on his journey to Europe, he worked 16 hours in a restaurant for very little salary.
Others like him complain of exploitation by local businesses - and say they work long hours, but receive half the salary locals do. Most said they cannot make enough money to keep going.
One woman, who introduced herself as Umm e Osama, or mother of Osama, said her husband and one son were abducted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops. She does not know where they are. She wants a better future for her younger son. That life, she said, is in Germany.
“German people are calling us,” she said smiling.
Many in the Turkish border town have not heard of European countries closing their borders to new migrants, or they do not believe borders will stay closed for long.
At one point Tuesday afternoon, the governor of Edirne arrived to persuade them to return to Istanbul. He promised them hotel rooms if they do not have a place to stay, and said that if they register they will get priority to go to Europe if Europe invites more migrants. His voice on a megaphone, along with his Arabic translator’s, were drowned out by chants of “peaceful walking.”
It was obvious they are not willing to leave the doorstep to Europe.