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World

Refugee Crisis Leads To Chaos At The Turkey-Greece Border

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Migrants have become pawns in a standoff between Turkey and the rest of Europe. Turkey is no longer stopping them from going to Greece. It's a move to get support as Turkey hosts millions of refugees while fighting in Syria. Now thousands of migrants are stranded at the border, where Greece drives them back, sometimes by force. Durrie Bouscaren reports.

DURRIE BOUSCAREN, BYLINE: Syrians, Somalis, Afghans and others gather around a large roll of plastic, paying the equivalent of U.S.$16 for a meter of plastic sheet. It's seven times what it should cost, but for some, it could be the only thing between them and the sky if it rains. In a cornfield near the Greek border, a father from Iran asks us not to use his name. He doesn't want his family back home to recognize him. He speaks to our interpreter.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: I also want to add that we didn't have any problem, like, economical problem. We just had problems that we were not able to live in our country.

BOUSCAREN: This family used to live in Luxembourg. They went back to Iran for a funeral but ran into political trouble and had their passports taken away from them. They escaped to Turkey, but without legal papers, he could only work odd jobs, leaving no money to cover medical bills for their 7-year-old son, who has autism.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: And we are also not hungry people. We are not after food or comfort life in the other countries. We just want to - we were not able to live in our country.

BOUSCAREN: In the distance, you can hear the sound of Greek police across the border firing tear gas. Many are turned back to Greece, often by force. A 27-year-old Afghan migrant is furious.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Like, it was a game by the Turkish government. And we had - they have been played with us.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: And they're, like, misusing the refugees against other countries.

BOUSCAREN: It's not just desperation that's led people to the border between Turkey and Greece or onto rafts to make a sea voyage to the Greek islands. Turkey has encouraged them to go. The migrants have become a way for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to force the European Union to enter negotiations. He wants the EU to pay attention to Turkish casualties in Syria's Idlib province and to the 4 million refugees Turkey is already hosting, more than any other country. He wants the EU to help.

(SOUNBITE OF BUS ENGINE REVVING)

BOUSCAREN: A group of Afghan refugees are camping in a small grassy area sandwiched between a bus station and the highway. They spent their savings to take a bus to the border crossing but instead were brought to a river and told to wade across, says Ayshe Sayde.

AYSHE SAYDE: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: They were not allowing us from Pazarkale border, but they were - they took us to some other border, which was very dangerous.

BOUSCAREN: They refused and walked for five hours back to this bus station. Her friend Rooksana is pregnant, but they'll stay here under the sky because there's nowhere else they can go.

For NPR News, I'm Durrie Bouscaren in Edirne, Turkey.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHOENIX'S "NORTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.