IN their tens of thousands the refugees flocked to the Turkish border with Greece – and the EU – after being given new hope for the first time in years by Turkey’s strongman ruler.
The desperate families fleeing the horror of IS and neighbouring Syria’s brutal civil war believed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he pledged to open the door to Europe.
Little Ahmed Mure sits at his dad Hassan’s feet, after the family fled the current conflict between Turkish, Syrian, Russian and rebel forces in the Syrian city of Idlib[/caption]
Trapped on the edge of freedom, refugees await their fate near the Greek border[/caption]
The country’s authorities even laid on buses to the border as more than 75,000 people gathered their meagre belongings and heeded his call.
But a week later Erdogan’s pledge rang hollow as the refugees found themselves hungry, cold and trapped in a desolate, wind-blown hell camp at the newly fortified frontier. Yesterday they branded Erdogan a monster and accused him of using them as pawns in a political game.
Bedraggled groups of migrants, shivering in a buffer zone between Turkish and Greek border posts near the city of Edirne, cut a pitiful sight.
Crushed by the war and years of poverty in Turkish refugee camps, their despair was palpable after their hopes were dashed yet again.
Hardi Othman, a 38-year-old Kurdish army sergeant who fled to Turkey after he was wounded battling IS in Iraq, said: “Erdogan tricked us, we are being used.
“I lost two brothers fighting IS — the real bad guys — and in the end I had no option but to bring my wife and two children from Kirkuk to safety in Turkey.
“We were staying in a hotel in Edirne until last week when Erdogan announced that restrictions on leaving Turkey were being lifted.
“So we took our belongings and joined thousands of others who rushed to the border.
“But the Greek side stayed shut and their riot police beat us back with tear gas, and now I’m trapped here, sleeping in the open, afraid my family will die of cold or hunger.”
Yesterday Greece said there had been more than 35,000 attempted crossings in the week since Turkey let the migrants flock to the border.
As more arrived, a makeshift tent city grew up at Pazarkule, a stone’s throw from the Greek frontier at Edirne.
Fears grew that Turkey might let the settlement morph into a Calais Jungle-style staging post, and the EU responded by deploying 100 border guards to bolster the 530-strong force already in place. But the move created a tense stand-off between Greek, EU and Turkish forces which could escalate into military clashes — with the beleaguered migrants once again caught in the middle.
Yesterday one of them, Hardi, was forced to forage for food and blankets for his wife Shirn, 27, and daughters Shein, 12, and eight-year-old old Choin in a litter-strewn cabbage field plagued by packs of wild dogs.
Bewildered toddlers wrapped in winter coats wandered oblivious to the chaos and misery as their parents queued for paltry food rations.
The threat of disease — including coronavirus — lingered in bitter winter air wracked with coughs and sneezes. Turkish officials marshalling the throng wore face masks.
A refugee with a cough wears a face mask at the border, with disease and the risk of coronavirus all around[/caption]
Student Yahir Zakour, 17, from Idlib, said: ‘All we want is to leave this place’[/caption]
Police fenced off the border zone and were seen in unmarked vans rounding up migrants still flooding into the city.
Cops and military police controlled entry to the border zone and blocked access to outsiders.
Hardi told The Sun: “Conditions in there are horrendous — families sleeping on freezing concrete with no shelter and nowhere to go.
“There are more than 10,000 people sleeping rough in no man’s land and lots are getting sick. But Erdogan might even want people to die here so he can blame the Europeans for not letting us in. We are caught in the middle again.”
Mohammed al Hassan, 29, fled Aleppo after his entire family was wiped out in a Syrian regime airstrike in 2018.
Shivering at a feeding station near the entrance to the camp, he told The Sun: “I am alone here after I lost everything. The bomb took my family and left only the shell of my grandfather’s house. There is nothing in Turkey for people like me, no work, no money, no future, no hope, and we are all desperate to reach the West — Germany, the UK, America, Canada . . . anywhere but here.
“I can understand why groups are breaking away and even trying to swim to Greece across the river at the border. They’re so desperate, they don’t care if they die.”
Father of six Hassan Mure, 45, and his 38-year-old wife Jamira fled the current conflict between Turkish, Syrian, Russian and rebel forces in the Syrian city of Idlib.
Clutching his six-year-old son Ahmed inside his jacket against the biting wind, he said: “We are struggling to survive. I don’t know where to go now or what to do.
“Turkey doesn’t want us and Europe is afraid of us but we want nothing more than to work hard for our families and live in peace. We don’t want to die here.”
Student Yahir Zakour, 17, also from Idlib, said: “All we want is to leave this place. We are prisoners here. Why did they give us hope then take it away?”
Raz Sayidi, 16, who fled strife in northern Afghanistan, said: “We came from a camp in Istanbul but we’re going back today. They told us the border was open but it was lies and it is like hell here, no one will survive here for long.”
The crisis follows President Erdogan’s ditching of a deal in which Turkey agreed to hold migrants in return for a £5.1billion EU handout after more than a million poured west in 2015.
Last week he warned that “millions” more would follow from the 3.6million camped in his country unless the EU helps to deal with them — by stumping up more cash or allowing more into Europe.
Greece responded by banning asylum applications for the next month and deploying thousands of police and troops to push back migrants battling to enter.
Greek naval chiefs also sent gunboats to shore up its island defences. On Monday a boy aged six or seven died off the Greek island of Lesbos when a boat capsized. Footage showed Greek gunboats firing into the sea near screaming refugees in dinghies.
Coastguard chiefs claimed 46 migrants on one dinghy heading to Lesbos — escorted by a Turkish patrol boat — deliberately over-turned in Greek waters.
On Thursday Mr Erdogan and Russian President Putin met in Moscow for talks on Idlib and the refugee crisis and agreed a ceasefire between their forces in Syria.
Meanwhile, EU chiefs sent a strong message backing Greece’s tough stance, describing the nation as “Europe’s shield”. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Our first priority is to ensure order is maintained at the Greek external border, which is also a European border.” She promised Greece £608million in aid to shore up its frontier.
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On the Greek side of the frontier yesterday locals spoke of their fears as refugees clashed with cops.
Cafe owner Maltakis Constantinos, in Didymoteicho, near the river border, said: “We’ve put up with the odd migrant crossing for years but this is a full-scale invasion.
“It’s impossible not to pity them after all they’ve been through, but we can’t cope with this.”
The crisis follows President Erdogan’s ditching of a deal in which Turkey agreed to hold migrants in return for a £5.1billion EU handout[/caption]
Thousands of refugees continue to gather at the border between Turkey and Greece, after the Turks said they would open the border to allow thousands through to mainland Europe[/caption]
The Sun’s Chief Foreign Correspondent Nick Parker on the scene near Edirne in Turkey[/caption]
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