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Worries Grow Turkey Will Send COVID-19 Migrants to Greek Islands, EU

Αssociated Press

(AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

ATHENS – Greek officials fear that Turkey, overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, will send migrants infected with the virus to Greece, mostly to the islands, in a bid to spread the disease through the European Union in a kind of germ warfare.

Greek officials not named told Kathimerini that masses of migrants in Turkey have been concentrating in the country's western seaside towns, as if ready to cross into neighboring Greece's islands in the Aegean Sea where five are already overwhelmed with more than 42,000 of them in detention centers and camps.

Other sources also not identified said they believe that Turkey has a plan to push migrants infected with the coronavirus to cross into Greece and other parts of Europe in the midst of the virus pandemic.

According to the sources, these migrants, many of whom were also at the Pazarkule, or Kastanies, border crossing, have been transported from migrant camps in the hinterland with migrants moving toward the Turkish coast helped by police in further violation of the swap deal that has seen EU officials reluctant to confront Erdogan.

The same Greek sources are calling Turkish flights over the islands of Lesbos and Chios and the land border in Thrace, a diversionary tactic. Those islands have centers holding refugees and migrants.

Greek authorities have collected much of the information from open sources, such as NGOs who are active in helping migrants in Turkey enter Greece, the paper said.

After a Turkish singer released a song hoping that Greece would be harder hit with the virus, Turkey has also apparently worked to try to send migrants to Greece in cargo ships instead of letting human traffickers send them in small craft and rubber dinghies.

A Turkish ship grounded itself on the island of Tzia, also known as Kea, an hour away from the Greek coast, the vessel found full of refugees and migrants who were taken to the mainland.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent 10,000 migrants to the land border with Greece late in February – before the spread of the virus – and urged them to cross after the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers in an area of Syria they'd invaded made him fear another exodus of Syrian refugees to Turkey, that was already holding 3.3 million.

The masses he sent to the land border were kept out of Greece when Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis had the gates closed and sent riot police and Army units to repel those trying to get across, with exchanges of tear gas.

Greek islands have been the main entry point for migrants and refugees who first went to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands, including people fleeing economic misery in sub-Saharan Africa and Turkey has let human traffickers keep operating during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.

Erdogan wanted the agreement revised and said the EU should send Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.28 billion) held back from a 6-billion euro ($6.56 billion) pledge, give Turks visa-free travel in the bloc and speed accession talks also delayed.

Now Greek authorities who weren't identified told the newspaper Kathimerini they are anxious Turkey will flood Greek islands with more refugees and migrants and is readying to send those infected with COVID-19.

Greece has been faring far better than most other countries by bringing a quick lockdown as Erdogan was slow to react in Turkey which is being overwhelmed with growing cases and deaths.

As of April 11, Turkey had reported 52,167 cases of the coronavirus and 1,101 deaths, the government suddenly bringing a two-day curfew that sent panicked people to supermarkets to store up on food and other necessities.