Hundreds of refugees and migrants flocked to the Turkish border with Greece yesterday after Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signalled he would no longer stop them entering Europe, a move meant to pile pressure on the West to give more support to Turkey over Syria.
Hours after an Assad regime air strike killed 33 Turkish soldiers in Syria's Idlib province, edging the two sides closer to all-out war, Turkish officials said they were abandoning agreements with the EU and would allow Syrian refugees to head to Europe.
"We will no longer keep the doors closed for refugees who want to go to Europe," a senior Turkish official said.
The move raised fears the EU could face a fresh refugee surge five years after the 2015 crisis that shook European politics. However, the initial numbers of people appearing at the Greek border appeared relatively low.
Several hundred people gathered at a Greek border post near Edirne, while others headed to the Bulgarian border. Greek forces sealed the border and fired smoke grenades to push the crowds back. As night fell, the refugees appeared stuck in a no-man's land between the two countries.
"Significant numbers of migrants and refugees have gathered in large groups at the Greek-Turkish land border and have attempted to enter the country illegally," said Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister. "I want to be clear: no illegal entries into Greece will be tolerated."
At least one rubber dinghy carrying refugees set sail from a Turkish beach and landed soon after on the Greek island of Lesbos, resuming the perilous route in which hundreds of people have drowned in recent years. Turkish authorities made no effort to stop the craft and its voyage was broadcast on Turkish television.
The numbers gathering at the border seem likely to grow as refugees and migrants clambered aboard buses in Istanbul to make the three-hour journey to the Greek border at Edirne. Many of the refugees are Syrian but others are Afghan, Iraqi or Pakistani, according to Turkish media.
While Turkish authorities were allowing the groups to head to the border - and broadcasting news of their journey across the world through pro-government media outlets - it was not clear the extent to which the government was actually organising their travel.
The Turkish government said the refugees were organising themselves but reports suggested authorities were co-ordinating their movements. Authorities waived requirements for Syrians to have special permits before travelling to the border.
Turkish officials announced the open border plan in anonymous briefings to the media and did not make any formal announcement of a policy change, giving Ankara some plausible deniability if it reverses course.
Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, said the Turkish foreign minister had given him "reassurances" that Turkey intended to continue abiding by the 2016 agreement to stop refugees heading to Europe in return for billions of euro. (© Daily Telegraph, London)