The governor’s office in Turkey’s western border province of Edirne announced March 17 that 147,132 migrants had crossed into EU territory from the province since Feb. 28, when Ankara said it would no longer stop refugees from moving on to Europe. The statement might have been passed over as routine were it not an implicit declaration that Turkey’s “operation” of sending refugees to Europe via Greece had tacitly come to an end.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had confirmed Feb. 29 that the operation was underway, saying, “We had said months ago that we would be forced to open the gates if it went on like this. They didn’t believe us. And what did we do yesterday? We did open the gates. The number [of migrants crossing the border] has reached 18,000 as of this morning.” Stressing his resolve, he added, “We will keep the gates open in the coming period and this will continue.”
On the morning of Feb. 28, free buses, hired by unknown organizers, began ferrying hundreds of refugees from Istanbul to the Greek border. Scenes of frantic refugees elbowing their way into the coaches, lined on a spacious avenue across the Istanbul Police Directorate in the center of the city, were broadcast live on scores of TV channels, which were evidently notified in advance of what was going to happen.
In the border region, Turkish security forces took measures to facilitate the migrants’ passage to Greece, while their Greek counterparts sprung into heavy-handed action to stop the influx. The face-off continued for days.