EDIRNE (Reuters) - A growing crowd of several thousand migrants resumed their bid to march on Turkey’s Greek border on Friday, but security forces later halted their advance from a makeshift roadside camp where they had sheltered for three days.
Several hundred migrants had been in a stand-off with police, some in riot gear, since Tuesday, as they attempted to walk from Istanbul to the Pazarkule border crossing near the city of Edirne.
By Friday numbers had swollen to several thousand, a Reuters witness said, and security forces allowed them to march closer to the frontier before again halting their progress some 14 km by road from the border, but much closer cross-country.
Earlier, Edirne’s Governor said migrants would not be allowed to pass without an invitation from neighboring or European countries.
“This passage is not possible,” Dursun Ali Sahin said in a live broadcast on CNN Turk. “If there is any country that is formally inviting you, we would be happy to take you there ourselves with a vehicle or by plane. But that has not happened so far,” he added.
The crowd of migrants, some pushing luggage-laden strollers and carrying their children, highlights the paradox of Turkey’s position.
It has been widely praised for welcoming 2 million Syrian refugees, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus saying Turkey had spent $7.6 billion responding to the refugee crisis.
But is now a key jumping-off point for those trying to reach Europe, as many of those fleeing neighboring Syria and Iraq, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, say there is no work for them in Turkey and see the European Union as their best hope.
Hundreds of thousands have made the perilous journey by boat to Greek islands off Turkey, but a spiraling death toll has seen more people make for its land borders.
On Thursday a spokesman for the caretaker Greek government said it was preparing for a possible new wave of migrants crossing the Evros river that divides Greece from Turkey.
Reporting by Osman Orsal; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonny Hogg; Editing by Jon Boyle