KASTANIES, Greece – With Greece anxious that scores of thousands of refugees and migrants will try to cross the border with Turkey – which opened its gates to them – units from the Greek army joined riot police trying to keep them out as the crisis intensified.
There are some 10,000 massed on the Turkish side after 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.
Greek troops and riot police remained on high alert along the land border between Greece and Turkey, said Kathimerini, the standoff symbolizing the tension as Greece said it’s also guarding the outer limits of the EU border.
There are about 5.5 million refugees and migrants in Turkey and Greece is holding about 100,000 in detention centers and camps, including about 42,000 on islands near Turkey, hundreds more arriving in recent days.
Greek authorities said the border had been quiet the night of March 3, unlike clashes in previous days when police used tear gas against migrants, including women and children, stuck in limbo between the countries.
“There were only a few attempts today (by migrants to cross the border). Let’s hope they get the message,” a machine gun-toting army officer told Reuters near the Kastanies border crossing as the New Democracy government shut down Greece’s borders now too.
Army jeeps patrolled the area, and roads leading to the Evros river which marks the Greek-Turkish border remained shut.
“Greece’s borders are also Europe’s borders,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a statement released ahead of a planned inspection tour of the area with the heads of the European Commission, European Commission and European Parliament.
Without a military, the EU has been left to tweet support for Greece but so far as refused to issue sanctions against Turkey or Erdogan, whose country has been trying to join the bloc since 2005 although prospects are dim.
The EU wants to avoid repeating the chaos of 2015-16 when more than a million migrants and refugees, mostly from the Middle East and Asia – especially Afghanistan and Syria’s civil war – poured in through Greece and Balkan countries before borders were sealed.
There were fewer attempts to reach five Greek islands near the Turkish coast, stymied by choppy seas in the Aegean where scores have drowned over the last four years, including children, trying to get to Greece to seek asylum.
A 7-year-old Syrian boy died after he and 47 others were taken out of the water when their boat capsized. He was the first reported fatality since Turkey opened its border.
Greece was furious that Erdogan’s claimed that Greek soldiers killed two migrants and badly wounded a third, denying the assertion outright.
“When a country uses people as a battering ram, fabricates fake news to mislead them, and systematically violates the sovereignty and sovereign rights of neighbouring countries, it is in no position to point fingers at anyone,” the Greek Foreign Ministry tweeted.
Russia said that Turkey was trying to push 130,000 refugees from Syria into Greece, the Interfax news agency cited the Defense Ministry as saying.
Some two-thirds of these refugees – that Turkey is pushing from temporary camps in Syria – are Afghans, Iraqis and Africans, not Syrians.