Category Archives: Current affairs

Postcards from the Edge

We are going to keep Pul Biber to mostly being about living in Turkey and local material, our travels, our life here.  On which we have just got back from a trip to Greece details of which to follow soon.

Right now we are taking this opportunity to let people know that political content, especially about the UK, and maybe some other bits and pieces, social commentary and observations, human rights matters and so on will appear over on Postcards from the Edge.  Do please drop by if you are interested, do comment if you want.

This is something we have been thinking of doing for a while.  Recent terrible events in the UK got us off our backsides and writing.


Public Service Announcement

For those UK citizens who are living in Turkey  or maybe elsewhere outside of the UK and want to vote in the referendum.  If you have a postal vote this may not be of much use since the earliest they will be sent out from the UK is 3rd June, so odds are we will get them sometime in July.

We spoke to the Electoral Commission about this.  They provided the telephone number of Electoral Services where we are registered for a postal vote, in our case London Borough of Ealing.  We now have the forms by email for a Proxy vote, these can be printed, completed, scanned and returned by email.  In our case the Proxy may then have to apply for a postal vote but that too can all be done by email and return of email.

If you are a UK citizen living in Turkey or elsewhere and want to vote, then depending on your postal service this may be what you need to do.


For the record we’ll be voting In.  Apart from all the other good reasons, this one.  On the front of our passports it says European Union.  This is really important, because many of the rights we have to live here (and the same is true of those living in the EU and some other countries) are predicated on agreements with the EU.  Leave the EU, those agreements are at risk.

That said, the important thing here is democratic process, having the opportunity to vote.


On the Border

I do not like the refugee and migrant deal between Europe and Turkey, it leaves a bad taste, and I have many worries.

It is not the candy being offered to Turkey that worries me, money is no big deal, visa free travel is no big deal.  Visa free is pretty much a paper exercise, or more accurately a paper free exercise.  All it means is that Turks will be able to travel to most of Europe without getting a visa, Turks will still be limited to all the general requirements.  Visa free travel does not give access to the EU job market or to benefits or anything else, all it means is Turks will be able to travel to most of Europe and stay for up to 90 days in a given 180 day period without getting a visa, and most if not all EU citizens will be able to travel to Turkey without visa and under the same conditions.

I’m not too fussed that some of the conditions might get watered down a bit although I do think it sends the wrong message.  Being honest here there are plenty of other countries with far more questionable records of human rights and freedoms many of which unlike Turkey have not signed up to the ECHR and already have visa free travel to the EU.  So at worst it is an opportunity lost and the wrong message, but Turkey will need to address issues at some point in the future if Turkey continues to aspire to EU membership.

And the money is no big deal, Europe would be spending that money supporting people no matter what, it would just get spent in Greece or Germany on the same people fleeing terror, bombs, and the rest.  Yes it is a lot of money, but the West has seriously contributed to the chaos and instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen.  Morally it is the right thing to do.

I worry that a maritime national border can be so porous.  Let’s face it, Cameron, May and the rest of that shower would be apoplectic if the maritime border of France was so porous.  But well, it is a long coastline, Turkey is creaking under the strain of somewhere over 3 million Syrian refugees, and Greece hardly has the money or resources to maintain a costly maritime border.

I worry that so much effort is happening to stop refugees and migrants reaching Europe.  The reality is there are over 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, approaching 2 million in Lebanon, over 3 million in Turkey.  By comparison the number in Greece, Germany, Sweden, elsewhere is minute.  The rhetoric that many more will come if allowed to, if the borders remain open, simply does not match the evidence that the vast majority are for whatever reason staying close to Syria.

I worry about the nasty lurch to the right that has happened across much of the globe and is so evident in the UK and much of Europe, and how this is in part driving the deal.  I guess the reality of the global banking crisis, the loss of income, the loss of jobs, loss of confidence, the misguided ethos of austerity, along with events in Syria, Iraq, Libya, elsewhere and people fleeing war and terror has created a perfect storm for nastier aspects of right wing nationalism.

I worry that the refugee and migrant route will change.  That the route will shift to Libya, and the far more dangerous crossing to Italy.  I suspect it will happen, and it is not as if Europe can then do a deal with Libya given the West left that country with no government and as pretty much a failed state.

What I really dislike is the forced repatriation.  Yes I know that any Syrian who is in Greece or reaches Greece will be allowed to remain if they claim refugee status.  No Syrian who claims refugee status will be sent back anywhere.  But I do not like the idea of people being forced onto boats and across a national border, for me it is too close to events from our not too distant past.

If there is one good thing, and it is a very good thing, it is this.  The bodies of men, women, children and infants are no longer being washed up on the shore.  At least now, Turkey is being more proactive, Greece is getting the necessary help, steps have been taken to prevent deaths at sea.

On our recent trip we saw ships patrolling at sea, and these, German Coast Guard and Swedish Search and Rescue ships moored at Vathy, Samos.  Unlike last year we saw no boats trying to make the crossing and other than a small camp towards the Greek border with Macedonia, very few refugees and migrants anywhere else.  A massive difference from what we saw on our travels last year.

Despite all my worries, and the bad taste the deal leaves, it remains my hope that those terrible days of bodies being washed up on the shore will never return.

Happy New Year (and some new directions)

This year we have learned that a couple of the Blogs we follow here in Turkey are finishing. To be honest we had thought of the same, but, we think 2016 is going to be an interesting year.

Some of the plans we had when we moved to Turkey included the east, maybe even Syria. Obviously those things are out of the question right now. We might go as far east as Cappadocia, but probably no further. We may spend more time in Greece, well actually we will be spending some time in Greece. Plans are afoot.

We also need to write up some of our travels from last year. Expect some of these over the coming weeks since right now the weather is not good for travel. We can catch up on the neglected posts.

So, a good part of the blog will be about us and travel, life in the Aegean. Life in Turkey. Nature, wildlife, and the rest.

We will be doing some other things on the blog as well.

There will be some more political commentary; we’ll be applying the Amnesty principle so are not likely to comment a great deal on the political situation in Turkey, or at least not in a critical way. We are guests here; we intend to act as such. So maybe about the UK, or the EU, or the Middle East.

There may be more about motorcycles.

There may be other things as well.

2016 is going to be an interesting year with some new things for us. So, we will continue blogging and sharing some of the things we get up to.

Displaced – Take Two

Displaced was written by Hilary.  I wanted to write something different.  We saw two different groups of people entering Greece, and no doubt bound for northern Europe.  We had this confirmed by islanders as well, that many of the the migrants would head for Athens and then leave Greece.

The first group was young people, mostly males.  These seemed to be coming mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.  We saw ripped up UNHCR papers with text in Turkish, identifying individuals from these countries.  Refugees from conflict, but like all young people desperate for a better future willing to travel to find it.

The second group were Syrians.  These were family groups, men, women, children, infants.  People who had risked not only their own lives on a night sea crossing across shipping lanes, but the lives of newborn.

So why risk the crossing, why risk life and limb on the hope of reaching France, Germany, UK?  Why not remain in Turkey?  Why is this movement of displaced people happening?

Why not remain in Turkey is probably the easiest one.  Jobs in Turkey are hard to find, when they can be found, wages are not good.  Sometimes are commission only, sometimes it is all day in a field for a few lira.  Foreigners are often not allowed to work, and to be honest, there are more than two million known refugees in Turkey, Turkey is struggling to cope, the refugees are on the streets with nowhere to go, and the EU is not providing the assistance to Turkey to help the refugees that it is treaty bound to do.  So the refugees leave.

Why Northern Europe.  Well in a sense it is chasing Shangri La.  It is where jobs pay decent money, even in the black economy.  It is perceived as safe, where it is safe to bring up children, safe to express ideas, where the rule of law is upheld, where human rights are protected.  This is the perception and to a point these people are right.

Why flee their native countries?  This is of course the real source of the problem.  The simple answer is they are fleeing war, genocide, hatred.  I ask all who might read this…..  If you were living in a country where the military might drop a barrel packed full of explosives and nails onto the street where your children were playing, would you stay?  Would you stay in a country where your daughter might be abducted and raped because she was of a different religious sect?  Of course you would not.

But the real question we need to ask is how have we got to the position where these things are happening?  What part has the Western world played in creating this unprecedented movement of displaced people?  The west has raged military war on Afghanistan, on Pakistan, on Syria, on Libya, on Iraq.  The west has raged economic war on Iran.  The west incited political unrest and civil war in Libya, Syria.  I could easily add more to each list.  The reason for all of this is not political, is not ideological, it is all driven by greed, by the desire to acquire resources, to plunder the local wealth, to asset strip, to essentially take the wealth of these nations, these peoples, and transfer it to western economies.  It is therefore no great surprise that when people are forced to flee war, terror and genocide, they follow the route of their plundered wealth, to those very countries which created the unrest in the first place.