Thousands of asylum seekers ferried to EU border as pawns in Turkey's 'political game' 

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app Migrants in Turkey were told the border had been opened, but arrived at the EU frontier to find armed guards and tear gas

A boy stands next to a tree as migrants in the background camp awaiting to cross the border, at Turkey's Pazarkule with Greece's Kastanies, in Edirne
A boy stands next to a tree as migrants in the background camp awaiting to cross the border, at Turkey's Pazarkule with Greece's Kastanies, in Edirne Credit: Reuters

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThousands of migrants were trapped on Saturday in a squalid no-man's-land beyond Turkey's border with Greece, as the realisation dawned on them that they had become pawns in a political stunt hatched by the Turkish government.

Huddled crowds from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Syria gathered on a narrow road that sits between Turkish and Greek territory, their path to Europe blocked by razor wire and armed EU border guards.

Less than 24 hours ago, many believed their prayers had been answered when the Turkish government announced it was opening its side of the border and laid on a fleet of unmarked, white buses to ferry migrants to its frontier with Greece. 

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appNow they are stuck in freezing temperatures with little food or water, resorting to pulling down tree branches for firewood and erecting makeshift tents, as it becomes clear that the path to Europe has been tightly sealed.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appJust yards away from angry confrontations between migrants and border guards, children no older than four or five, who were wrapped up in coats and wooly hats, ran around in the mud. 

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appA Greek government spokesman described the wave of migration as an "onslaught," adding that it would "do whatever it takes to protect its borders." And in Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hinted at border closures in the event that Greece failed to keep the crowds at bay.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appRecep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey's president, has long threatened to let refugees into Europe if they don't meet his demands. His latest move marks the most serious escalation in his attempts to secure more help from Europe and Nato in tackling the refugee crisis in Syria, where almost a million have fled war in Idlib province in recent weeks.   

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appIn a speech on Saturday Mr Erdoğan, Turkey's president, claimed that 18,000 people had amassed on the border and threatened to send a further 30,000.

But in reality the number of people gathered at the main crossing, near the Turkish city of Edirne, appeared no higher than 5,000, while in nearby Ipsala a Turkish police officer said around 500 people had arrived.

In what may soon become a sprawling refugee camp unless the crowds are dispersed by Turkish forces, women and children huddled around fires, masking their faces from the smoke.

Rumours swirled at the border on Saturday about Turkish authorities transporting most of the migrants back to Istanbul at the end of the weekend, should Mr Erdogan feel his point has been made.

The majority of those gathered in Edirne were young men, who angrily shouted at the Greek soldiers guarding their side of the border, behind a barbed-wire fence that stretched as far as the eye could see in each direction.

Further south, dozens of migrants were attempting sea crossings to the Greek island of Lesbos in dinghies, with limited success.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appSome migrants claimed they had been beaten by Greek police, and that in at least one incident those who tried to cross into the EU had their shoes confiscated.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appOthers told the Sunday Telegraph of their devastation as they realised they had been duped were now trapped at the border, Many who were unable to board free buses have resorted to paying taxi drivers around 100 lira (£12) and claim they are now out of money.

Migrants camp as they await to cross the border at Turkey's Pazarkule with Greece's Kastanies, in Edirne Credit: Reuters

Some migrants rode in on the back of pickup trucks driven by locals hoping to make some easy cash. Meanwhile, a group of taxi drivers bartered with migrants at a crossing near the Turkish town of Ipsala for transport back to Istanbul, after they gave up on entering Europe.

Abdullah, an 18-year-old Afghan who came to Turkey with his five siblings six months ago, said they felt their hearts leap as they were waved across the Turkish side of the border, only to be greeted with barbed wire, soldiers and tear gas at the Greek side.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app"We are devastated...we haven't even tried to cross again because we are too scared. One group today came back without any shoes, cell phones or bags. They were confiscated by the Greek police," he said.

"They lied to us, they said we could leave and now we are trapped here. We just want to go back to Ankara now but we don't have the money. I have no idea what to do."

One Iranian refugee who said he was fleeing the theocracy in Tehran accused Mr Erdogan of ensuring him and his friends in a cruel "political game," while two women from Somalia said they were ready to go back to Istanbul.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appMost of the people gathered at the border did not appear to have arrived from Syria's war-torn Idlib province, as they said they had already lived in Turkey without social security or ID cards for more than a year.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app"We have been waiting for four years for this chance and now we are stuck here because the other side is closed," added an 18-year-old from Kabul who gave his name as Hourshid.

"We have jobs in Turkey but we left them to come here. Now I guess we have to go back."

Migrants carry wood to set up a fireplace at their camp near Turkey's Pazarkule border crossing with Greece's Kastanies, in Edirne Credit: Reuters

Since 2016, under the terms of the EU-Turkey migration deal, Ankara has been halting refugee flows towards the EU, which in turn agreed to give Turkey €3billion (£2.3 billion) and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU's foreign policy chief, has said that the Turkish government has offered “reassurances” that Turkey intends to continue abiding by that agreement, even though its side of the border has been thrown open.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appAs groups continued to arrive at Edirne on Saturday evening, Turkey continued to pile pressure on Western leaders for more military support on Syria and used the threat of more migration waves into Europe as a key bargaining chip.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said the government has urged the United States to provide Patriot missiles as backup in northwestern Syria, following Syrian regime airstrikes this month which killed 55 Turkish soldiers.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThe Turkish president also called on Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to step aside in Syria and allow Turkish forces to battle the Syrian regime alone.

As night fell on Edirne, yet more migrants began to realise they had been duped as part of a cynical geopolitical game.

As they trudged back through no-man's-land, they passed the sign in Turkish which had greeted them 24 hours earlier, when they were filled with false hope of safe passage to Europe.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app"Turkey's border is its honour," the sign says.

Thousands of asylum seekers ferried to EU border as pawns in Turkey's 'political game'