Migrants gather between Pazarkule border gate, Edirne, Turkey, and Kastanies border gate, Evros, as they try to enter Greece, on Saturday, February 29, 2020 | Photo: Picture-alliance
Migrants gather between Pazarkule border gate, Edirne, Turkey, and Kastanies border gate, Evros, as they try to enter Greece, on Saturday, February 29, 2020 | Photo: Picture-alliance

The UN migration agency, IOM, is handing out meal boxes and other basic supplies to migrants gathered at Turkey‘s western border with Greece. There are concerns for thousands of people camping out in the region in near-zero temperatures, but the IOM says it is still assessing the situation.

Over 13,000 migrants, according to IOM estimates, have spent a cold night on the border between Greece and Turkey. The majority are concentrated at Pazarkule, the main crossing into Greece, while others are clustered in groups along the 212-km border.

Migrants started to head to the Greek border from different parts of Turkey on Friday last week after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced he would no longer stop refugees who want to go to Europe.

Migrants and Greek police clashed and police fired tear gas at migrants at Pazarkule in the Turkish state of Edirne over the weekend. 

Greek authorities have called a state of emergency and announced they would continue to block migrants from trying to enter the country. "Do not attempt to enter Greece illegally - you will be turned back," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

Greece also announced the suspension of asylum applications for the month of March.

Smugglers making use of the situation

Monitoring the crisis along the border, the UN migration agency IOM says most of the migrants on the move are men, but family groups with young children have also been crowding into buses bound for the border area. Meanwhile, others have been turning back, according to the IOM spokesperson in Vienna, Joe Lowry. He told InfoMigrants that some migrants were returning in taxis and buses to Istanbul, having decided they were not going to make it across the border. 

According to local media reports, smugglers are operating with impunity throughout the area. InfoMigrants has learned that some are advising migrants where they can go next, such as Canakkale and other places between Izmir and Istanbul, from where they can sail across to the Greek islands.
Map of Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey | Source: InfoMigrants
The IOM's Lowry confirmed that some migrants had crossed both land and sea borders. "At night time, our teams drove along the border and they saw dozens of camp fires, people trying to keep warm, which would suggest that people are waiting on the border trying to find ways through." He said it was impossible to verify Turkey's claims of 18,000 people having crossed into Greek territory.

On Sunday and Monday, boats carrying migrants crossed into Greece, Lowry confirmed, but he did not want to speculate about the EU country's next move. "What we have to concentrate on is the humanitarian imperative – making sure that people who are out in the cold, who are vulnerable (such as) pregnant women, the elderly and children are taken care of, are warm enough and have food and water."

No 'full-blown emergency response' yet

Lowry says there is as yet no "full-blown emergency response situation." Teams from the IOM's Data Tracking Matrix are currently assessing the numbers and movements of the migrants so that the UN agency and partner organizations such as the Red Crescent and government authorities can decide what is needed. "We have to know what the actual needs are and what we‘re facing before we do anything," Lowry said. "Information goes through migrant populations really, really quickly, and sometimes not very accurately. … Information is crucial, and that‘s what we're trying to do."

It is not yet clear whether new migrant camps will be established on the border for those unable to move in either direction, according to Lowry. "(The migrants') plans are not to stay on the border, their plans are to move into Europe if they can. ... A lot of them have been in Turkey for a long time and some would have jobs, some would have family situations and relatives in Istanbul. Are they going to go back there? It's anyone‘s guess."

"The dreams and the determination of migrants on the move is very, very strong – getting their families and themselves to places where they think they‘re going to be better off, whether or not that‘s the case, that‘s a very strong motivator. People are prepared to take huge risks to continue their journeys," Lowry said.

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