ATHENS — Repelling 10,000 refugees and migrants trying to cross from Turkey through Greece's northern land border along the Evros River earlier this year prevented Turkey from forcing the European Union to dish out 3 billion euros more in aid that had been pledged, Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said.
Speaking to an online event organized by the German Marshall Fund, he said the success of Greek riot police and army units in not letting through the migrants and refugees who had been bused there by Turkey was critical to the EU.
“If the illegal entry attempt had been successful, it could have destabilized our government and undermined our domestic security. In this way, Turkey would have been able to blackmail Europe into extracting more resources to manage migration flows,” he was quoted as saying by news website Hellas Journal.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent them there during a time when his country was engaged in battles in Syria, violating terms of an already essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.
Under that agreement, Turkey was supposed to contain more than four million refugees and migrants who had gone there fleeing war, strife and economic hardships in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan but also sub-Saharan Africa.
The agreement was supposed to pay Turkey 6 billion euros as well as grant visa-free travel for Turks in the 27-member EU and faster-track entry for the country into the bloc that has all but collapsed.
The EU paid Turkey the first 3 billion euros but Erdogan demanded release of the rest, threatening to unleash millions more refugees and migrants into the bloc through Greek islands and land borders.
Panagiotopoulos said Turkey's move was an “organized attempt” to violate Greek borders, the scene growing violent sometimes when refugees and migrants hurled Molotov Cocktails over the fence into Greek territory.
He said “provocations continued” with Turkey now sending out the Oruc Reis energy research vessel near the Greek island of Kastellorizo to conduct surveying activity accompanied by warships. “This forced us to tackle this mobilization by deploying our own ships in the area,” he said.
Panagiotopoulos said it is now calmer in the southern Aegean and there is less movement of warships, which is “definitely a step in the right direction,” reported Kathimerini.