Anti-racists from all over Greece marched on the border with Turkey last Sunday demanding safe passage for refugees.
The European Union has built a concrete fence and razor wire there.
Refugees’ only way in is to cross the Aegean Sea, where almost 4,000 have died in the past year.
Hundreds marched through the village of Kastanies chanting, “Bring down the fence, open the border”.
Riot cops blocked the road, but had no choice but to let a delegation through.
Costas Papadakis of anti-capitalist left group Antarsya was one of them. “We’re saying no to a policy of drowned children,” he told the crowd.
Locals joined a noisy march around the coastal town of Alexandroupolis in icy temperatures. The town’s municipal theatre hosted its first ever mass political rally that evening.
Activists from the island of Lesvos wore life jackets and carried giant cardboard wire cutters and chanted, “No borders, no nations, safe transportation.”
They have seen the effects of the fence first hand.
Efi Latsoudi told Socialist Worker, “Some 2,500 people arrived just yesterday. It’s desperate—the cold is extreme and its effects are severe.
“Many of those who died in the last week were killed by the cold.”
Like thousands of ordinary Greeks, Efi has been organising to provide food, healthcare and shelter for refugees abandoned by the state.
But she said, “That isn’t enough. It’s a political decision to let these people die.
“We have to change that policy and get them safe passage.”
Blockades of major roads by farmers fighting taxes and pension cuts made it harder to reach Evros County, far away from Greece’s main cities.
A convoy of protesters arrived at one blockade just before farmers shut the road. Activists got off the bus to talk to them and chanted slogans of unity.
Many delegations came from workplaces—including schools, hospitals, government buildings and the Athens metro.
There were people who volunteer in refugee camps, activists who originally came to Greece as refugees and many students too.
At the Kipi border crossing, Greek activists crossed over for a joint meeting with their Turkish comrades who had marched in Istanbul the day before.
Union branches and campaigns welcomed the demonstrations in each town. In Orestias, local activist Theodis Ferentidis called the fence a “monstrosity”.
He added, “This fence is a symbol of death, of the drownings we see every day on the news.
“We will never get used to seeing them—and we will never accept this murderous fence.”
Many in the region are descended from ethnic Greeks expelled from Turkey a century ago. As Costas Aslanoglou of the teachers’ union in Alexandroupolis said, “We know what it is to be refugees.”
Union support boosts demonstrations
Last weekend’s protests across Greece were the biggest these areas have seen.
Trade union support was vital to funding transport, food, venues and accommodation to make the action possible. The rail workers’ union helped slash the cost of a train from Athens.
More than 100 union bodies gave support, from national umbrellas to local branches.
This involved thousands of workers beyond those who were able to go.
Civil service worker Stavroula told Socialist Worker, “Getting support at work was easy. Not everyone could come, but the union contributed financially and sent a delegation.”
This feeds into building for a mass demonstration in Athens against racism and fascism on Saturday 19 March.
The march comes at the same time as a wave of strikes against massive cuts to pensions contained in Greece’s latest “memorandum” of austerity. For many activists the struggles are linked. Marchers chanted, “Bring down fences, not our pensions”.
Anti-racist coalition Keerfa called the weekend of action.
Keerfa coordinator Petros Constantinou said, “This is only the beginning. We will bring down the fence and the memorandum.
“And the next step will be the protests on 19 March.”
'Immigration policies are killing people'
Natasha Tsangarides joined the protest in Evros.
She told Socialist Worker, “European immigration policy is killing people.
“I work with refugees at Pikpa camp on the island of Lesvos.
“They come out of the water in a terrible state—cold, wet, hypothermic and with medical problems.
“People are drowning in the Aegean Sea. Yet there is a safe land crossing right here and it’s closed.
“For the first time border fences are being re-erected even inside the Schengen space. A proper alternative needs to be created.
“We’re protesting to demand a quick and easy solution—open the land border to stop the preventable deaths.