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Migrants At Turkey-Greece Border Face Resistance From Greek Officials

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And this is the sound of desperation at the border between Turkey and Greece.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: You're hearing migrants who are stranded, pawns in a political standoff. Thousands of people have traveled there hoping to cross into mainland Europe after Turkey's government said that they would no longer block the border. But they're being met with resistance from Greek authorities.

Reporter Durrie Bouscaren has been talking with these migrants, and she joins us from near the border. Thanks for being with us. What are you seeing?

DURRIE BOUSCAREN, BYLINE: Thanks, Rachel. The border itself is closed to press. But what we're seeing - what we've seen this week is people getting on buses from Istanbul, from elsewhere - and they're dropped basically in a cornfield about a kilometer from the border. And they're told to walk. They're being pushed back once they get to Greece by Greek police, who are using tear gas. We've heard reports of live rounds and deaths even though the Greek government is denying this. But this is possible because Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told the Turkish border guard to stand down and to not stop anyone from leaving for Europe.

MARTIN: So you've been talking with some of the migrants. What are they telling you?

BOUSCAREN: They're telling me some - these stories of desperation. I mean, for the most part, people are going because this is their last option. Turkey's economy is faltering, and policies towards foreigners have become more strict over the past years. Here's one father I met. His name is Walli Mohammadi (ph). He's from Afghanistan. And he shows me his 2-year-old son's eyes. They're bright red from what he says was being tear-gassed at the border. Here's what he said.

WALLI MOHAMMADI: (Speaking Dari).

BOUSCAREN: He's speaking in Dari, and he's telling the translator that I'm working with that he's been living in Turkey without papers for 2 1/2 years, eking out a living. And he says he has no future. When he heard Erdogan's announcement about opening the border, he used his last savings to get his family - there's 18 people - to the border. And now they're stuck. They had no idea what they were getting into.

MARTIN: So there are people like Walli who are stuck. But have - has anyone been able to cross the border?

BOUSCAREN: I mean, yeah, some do make it. It's hard to tell how many. Turkey definitely wants us to believe that a lot of people are going. And Greece says not so much. What we're told is that when people do cross, they're loaded onto buses and dropped back off on the Turkish side.

Sometimes it's even more than that. I met one group camping out by a river that acts as the border between Greece and Turkey, and they've actually gotten over. And when they made it to Greece, they were picked up by police, stripped down to their underwear. They said they were beaten and then driven back to Turkey.

Samihullah Sami - he's from Pakistan - he says his mother had to wire money from Lahore so they could get clothing and get back on their feet. Here's what he said.

SAMIHULLAH SAMI: (Non-English language spoken).

BOUSCAREN: And he's saying that Turkish organizations are coming by with tea and donations and encouraging them to stay, saying the border will open. So he's planning to keep trying, even if it takes a month.

MARTIN: Wow. So - I mean, what are you hearing? How likely is it that the border will open and when?

BOUSCAREN: I mean, I get that question from migrants all the time, and there's honestly no indication that it's going to happen. Turkey and the EU struck this deal in 2016 where the EU would pay Turkey to stop migrants from reaching Europe, and they would give them money for programming in Turkey. But Turkey claims the EU didn't hold up their part of the deal. And last week, Turkish soldiers suffered heavy casualties in Syria.

Erdogan knows this is the one card he can play to get Europe to listen - threaten them with human beings. So the EU has dispatched delegations to Ankara to try and persuade Erdogan to reinforce the border. But in the meantime, it's creating a lot of confusion and false hope for a lot of desperate people.

MARTIN: Durrie Bouscaren reporting near the Turkey-Greece border. Thank you so much.

BOUSCAREN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.