KASTANIES, Greece – Stymied by squadrons of Greek army units and riot police guarding the northern border with Turkey at the treacherous Evros River, thousands of refugees and migrants were looking for ways to get across after 73 made it but were arrested.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would no longer control them or abide by an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union after the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers in Syria was expected to bring Turkey a surge.
Many of those hoping to enter Greece were trying their luck by wading or rowing across the river that runs along most of the length of the Turkish frontier but it so perilous that many drowned trying to cross over the past almost five years.
Greek authorities said they thwarted an attempt by about 1,000 people overnight to make their way across the Evros wetland area, at the southern end of the border and that in one 24-hour period they prevented a total of 5,183 people from entering Greece, and arrested 45 people, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco and Bangladesh.
There are more than 100,000 in Greece, including about 42,000 on islands near Turkey which had already let human trafficked operate during a largely-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
After the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA was accused by New Democracy of having an open-door policy welcoming them, the Conservatives – who took power in July 7, 2019 snap elections – have now closed the borders after Erdogan opened them on his side.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was under intense heat from island officials and residents protesting government plans to build new detention centers to vet those not deemed eligible for sanctuary, which led to fierce clashes with riot police.
Greek units used tear gas and water cannon to keep the refugees and migrants from crossing from Turkey as Erdogan warned he could send millions more but still hasn’t been sanctioned by the EU.
Authorities have also set up cordons of police and army checks on and near the border, arresting those who managed to make it through. Two men – one from Mali and one from Afghanistan – were seen being arrested by Greek authorities shortly after crossing the border, and being loaded into a van with about 20 more people, from Somalia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Iraq.
The vast majority massed at the border appeared to be Afghans, along with people from a wide variety of countries, including Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh and Syria.
Erdogan, whose country hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, has demanded more support from Europe and said Turkey faces a dramatic new influx of refugees from the war in Syria, where growing clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops has raised alarm.
Migrants have also been trying to reach Greece by making the short but often perilous sea crossing to islands from the nearby Turkish coast. A 7-year-old Syian boy died after the dinghy he was in capsized off the coast of the island of Lesbos, with 47 others saved.
Greek authorities said they had stopped more than 24,000 attempted illegal crossings at the land border with Turkey since Feb. 29, and arrested 183 people – very few of whom were Syrians, drawing charges from Greek that Turkey is now also trafficking refugees.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)