ATHENS – With arrivals increasing into the autumn, Greece said Turkey is to blame for a surge of refugees and migrants being sent, this time not to Greek islands by human traffickers being allowed to operate during a suspended European Union swap deal, but across a land border along the Evros River.
Greece’s government said Turkish border authorities aren’t being vigilant enough. “There is very strong pressure at the Evros border while at the same time direct contact between local authorities in Greece and Turkey has stopped, which is making the problem worse,” a senior official at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry who was not named told Kathimerini.
Greek officials were said to be getting concerned that a wave of 500,000 Afghans who entered Turkey from Iran and Iraq could be heading for Greece, the closest point of entry to the European Union, which has shut its borders to them and reneged on promises to help spread an overload of more than 64,000 refugees and migrants around other countries.
Greece complained to the European Commission about Turkey, which ignores such challs as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to send even more unless the EU lives up to its deal to pay six billion euros ($6.87 billion), provide visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and speed entry into the bloc, which are on hold as only a relative handful of those seeking asylum have been returned to Turkey, where they went after fleeing war and strife in the Mideast and Asia.
The report said Turkey is letting human traffickers have a free hand to send refugees and migrants into Greece along the same border where two Greek soldiers who accidentally crossed while on patrol during bad weather in March were pounced on, arrested and held for months before being released.
Data showed that 1,010 human smugglers were arrested in the period spanning January to August while another 180 were nabbed in September and Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas told Parliament that 3,300 illegal migrants slipped through the Evros border in 2016, while 5,500 crossed in 2017, the figure jumping to some 12,000 this year so far, despite many having drowned previously while trying to cross the treacherous river.
The gangs, said to be from Albania, Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) reportedly take the refugees and migrants to Greece’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki on buses, with no answer why they aren’t being stopped.
The surge has resulted in many of them camping out in Thessaloniki’s main Aristotelous Square and near the police station by the well-known White Tower, hoping to be arrested so they can apply for asylum. Around 75 were temporarily moved by police to the Diavata camp on the city’s outskirts, from where they will be moved to other shelters.