As far as I know (from here) the standard way for Syrian refugees to enter Greece from Turkey has been to cross the sea covertly by boat to reach one of the Greek islands that are not far from the Turkish coast.

But Greece also has a small land border with Turkey. Since Syrians are very likely to be granted asylum, can't they just walk up to some border post and request asylum?

According to the regulations that were in place before governments started to improvise, is it theoretically possible to request asylum in the European Union from directly across the border (e.g. by requesting asylum instead of showing an entry permit)?

Is this possible in practice between Turkey and Greece at the moment, or has it been at any time since the start of the Syrian civil war?

If not, why not?

If yes, why don't refugees choose that way more often?

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    This might be helpful- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syria%E2%80%93Turkey_relations. They might just have a low opinion of Turkey because of bad relations. Feb 29, 2016 at 8:04
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    To seek asylum you have to be in the country and you are not in the country until after you have crossed the border and you can't cross the border (legally) without a valid visa.
    – liftarn
    Mar 2, 2016 at 13:58
  • @SVilcans Do you know that for a fact? German asylum law (Asylgesetz, §§ 13 and 18) says someone without the papers necessary for entry can seek asylum at the border and is not to be refused entry (if he's not coming from a safe country). Since Germany is surrounded by safe countries, German law is irrelevant to the question, but I'd be surprised if Greek (or EU) regulations were different. If someone knows where to find them, please post a link.
    – user7361
    Mar 5, 2016 at 23:24
  • @StefanWalter That's actually derived from the Geneva Conventions and part of EU law as well. Crossing a border without following proper procedure is explicitly not a crime if you are a bona fide refugee and does not disqualify you for asylum. As much as Germany would wish it would be that way, coming from a safe country does not necessarily make a whole lot of difference from the perspective of EU and international law incidentally.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 6, 2016 at 12:28
  • @PointlessSpike Many refugees, like the family of Aylan Kurdi are of Kurdish background, and Turkey and Kurds have bad relations too. Aug 26, 2016 at 21:52

3 Answers 3


Some background:

  • If someone is on a sinking boat you cannot turn them away as their life is at risk.
  • Turkey / Greece land border is not as easy to get to as the seaside towns in Turkey that are close to the Greek islands.
  • The Turkey / Greece land border has a permanent border fence.
  • It is hard for Greece to claim they can’t stop people coming over that border, therefore at the minimal any refugees it at risk of being registered at the border.
  • The turkish army is active near the Turkey / Greece land border and Turkey at least pretends it is trying to stop the refugee flow.

Now a few facts:

  • People granted asylum are not covered under EU freedom of movement and work.
  • It takes a long time for someone granted asylum to gain citizenship and get freedom of movement.
  • Under EU rules, someone can only apply for asylum in one country. (Should be the first safe country, but that is not enforced by Germany)
  • Once someone has been granted asylum in some counties there family will get visas to directly enter the country. (Hence the family will ALL save up to send one person over.)

Then what I think is true.

  • Most of the refugees wish to live somewhere there they can work and have a reasonable quality of life.
  • They don’t believe that the Greek people will allow this regardless of what Greek law says.
  • Unemployment in Greece is very very high.
  • In most of the EU outsiders are looked down on.
  • A lot of the refugees know someone that has gone to the UK or Germany and created a good life for themselves.
  • Having their children educated free of charge in English or Garman schools is the dream of a lot of the families.
  • The Greek government just want to pass the problem on to someone else, and is very good at pretending nothing is wrong.

If you compare Greece with Cyprus:

  • Cyprus has taken a hard line, not allowing any refuges to leave apart from to return to their country.
  • Cyprus will process asylum claim, but will not grant visas to allow family member to join an asylum seeker.
  • Cyprus will keep the refuges safe, fed, etc as required by UN regulations.
  • Cyprus works hard to get all their refugees to register asylum claims
  • Greece has provided free transport to help the refugees get from the Greek islands closer to Germany.
  • Greece has made no effort to register any refugees as asylum seekers.

Therefore Cyprus has not got a problem with 101 boats arriving every day.

  • I thought of it too but this simply cannot be the explanation. The Dublin rules are dead. Germany loudly proclaimed not to use Dublin but it's making virtue out of necessity, it was already highly dysfunctional. Regarding Greece, it's worse than that: Courts in several countries and then ultimately the EU court of justice have decided several years ago that sending people back to Greece was unacceptable. So being registered there as no downside in practice, you can go there and try to continue to Cyprus or wherever you want.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 3, 2016 at 21:14
  • Your answer is very confusing by the way, wouldn't the last couple of bullet points suggest that going to Greece openly is the easiest path? How does that explain the situation in Cyprus or on the Greek islands?
    – Relaxed
    Mar 3, 2016 at 21:16
  • @Relaxed, see the top of the answers, the refugees have to get INTO Greese without having to pass a Greek broader gard. And yes it is very confusing, as each refugees decides what to do based on a set of factors that effect them. Mar 4, 2016 at 12:00
  • No they don't, for the reasons I just explained, your answer is simply wrong in that respect. It's true for Italy and it's the whole idea behind the Dublin system (which I why I wrote that I thought of it too) but the Dublin regulation has effectively been suspended by the courts with respect to Greece, several years ago. And even if it were true for Greece, that would not explain the contradictions in your answer.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 4, 2016 at 21:09

Protection of refugees is an ancient custom. Many people practiced it, mostly for their own gain and applied to entire people/tribes. For instance, the Romans used, and sometimes invited, refugees to resettle depopulated areas.

Contemporary refugees law instead is a product of World War II, and in fact was originally limited to the people affected by the war and related events in Europe. It was then extended to everybody in 1967. At that time large scale movement of population was thought to be exceptional and difficult, so if you happened to accept many refugees it's because you wanted them and you bring them home yourself. For instance, this is what the USA had done after the Vietnam War.

This means that countries, like Greece, that cannot or don't want to accept refugees, have many ways to refuse them. For one, there is the debate between which one are migrants and which one are refugees which have different protections. This even putting aside the illegal things that they have accused of doing, for example Spain and Greece have been accused of shooting migrants/refugees before the current mass exodus.

Now to your questions. The answer is that you cannot enter from the land for the simple fact that they are considered safe in Turkey, but not at sea, so they can be refused at the border and not (legally) on the sea. Because at sea they are at imminent danger of death, while on land they are not, since Turkey is a stable country. So they can be refused entry as they don't have proper authorization[1]. Even Turkey might be unhappy about changing the situation because that would essentially invite large amount of foreigners to pass through its lands just to reach Europe. In general terms, the European countries are full of contradictions and have an interest to make the journey as hard as possible, even if they want to accept refugees, to not anger their own opposition. Look at Germany, they said: «we accept everybody», but they haven't actually done anything to ease their journey, leaving thousand of people disorderly roaming European countries. At face value that seems to be a very stupid thing, but it allow Merkel to somewhat limit the opposition.

The second reason is that while indeed Germany have chosen to exempt Syrian refugees from the Dublin Regulation, that forces European countries to accept refugees at the point of entry, this is not true for everybody else. So there are people that couldn't go to Germany legally, by entering at sea Greece could simply refuse to register them and let them move north. As Greece and Italy have been accused of doing.

The fundamental problem is that Germany may been willing to accept educated Syrian refugees but it has no interest in screening them and make the necessary work to keep out the unwanted Afghans or Ethiopians. So it is leaving Greece and Italy to bear most of the cost of keeping people out, including the risk of being forced to accept people that they don't want and themselves don't want to be there.

[1] There is a also a concept of Safe Country, but it's unrelated to this problem. Although Greece is thinking about declaring Turkey as such, which would allow them to send back the people already in Greece.

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    Thanks for your answer. "they are considered safe in Turkey, but not at sea, so they can be refused at the border and not (legally) on the sea" This would indeed answer my question. Do you (or does somebody else) have a reference for that?
    – user7361
    Mar 3, 2016 at 0:11
  • @StefanWalter I have updated the answer to explain the difference.
    – gabriele
    Mar 3, 2016 at 8:58
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    @MartinSchröder probably my phrasing was wrong. I meant to say that Germany prefers that Italy and Greece bear most of the cost of screening and keeping out the non-Syrian refugees. Of course Italy and Greece don't like that and leave many of them free to go north. Or are you saying that now Germany accepts unquestionably all refugees and expel the wrongdoers later ?
    – gabriele
    Mar 5, 2016 at 17:44
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    @gabriele: You are of course right; that's the idea of Dublin. The problem now is that the rest of Europe refuses to accept a sensible distribution of the refugees. Mar 5, 2016 at 19:58
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    @MartinSchröder Germany and other Northern countries always hoped to avoid facing the problem that way but the basic fact is that refugees are not things to be “distributed”, that's one of the fundamental flaws of the Dublin system.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 5, 2016 at 20:36

Yes, there is a 125 mile land border between Greece and Turkey. But, starting in Oct. 2011, the Greek government started to building a permanent border fence across the border. It was completed in Dec. 2012 and is 4 meters high (~12 feet).

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    Yes, but this doesn't apply to the question, unless they also shut down the two official border crossing points.
    – user7361
    Feb 29, 2016 at 22:48
  • While the border is 125 miles long, it is mostly separated by the Evros river. There is only about a 6mile land stretch between the two countries. it appears to be a negotiating point between Greece and the EU on a bailout agreement. I found this (Nov 2015) quote related to the discussions: "Kathimerini reports that Citizens’ Protection Minister Nikos Toskas suggested that the Greek government would be willing to consider opening a safe passage for refugees through the fence on the Evros border in northeastern Greece if there is an agreement with Turkey, Bulgaria and the European Union." Mar 1, 2016 at 0:04

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