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Greek Police, Military Repel Refugees, Migrants at Turkish Border, Masses Gather (Vid & Pics)

March 2, 2020

KASTANIES, Evros – With Turkey no longer abiding by a swap deal with the European Union and opening its borders to Greece, swarms of refugees and migrants trying to enter were pushed back by Greek police and army forces but as scores of thousands more were seen coming.

Defense Minister Alkiviadis Stefanis said some 9,600 were stopped trying to get into Greece during the early morning hours of March 1 but there were another 3,000 at the border crossing of Kastanies also trying to get in.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, furious over the death of 33 Turkish soldiers in an area of northern Syria they had invaded, unleashed the hordes on the EU as he had long threatened to do.

There are some 5.5 million in Turkey who had gone there fleeing war and strife in their homelands, including Afghanistan and Turkey, but also economic migrants from other regions who want to get to the EU.

The bloc, however, has closed its borders to them and other countries reneged on promises to help take some of the overload, dumping the problem largely on Greece which is holding about 100,000 in detention centers and camps, including 42,000 on islands near Turkey.

Greece braced for waves more trying to reach the islands on rubber dinghies and rickety craft with the aid of human traffickers that Turkey had already let operate during the 2016 swap deal with the EU.

There was growing tension at the Greek border where Kathimerini said refugees and migrants on the Turkish side were lobbing tear gas at police who were using the same tactics trying to keep them out.

Some about 220 migrants and refugees arrived during the night on the island of Lesbos by boats, the paper said, with additional reports that Erdogan said in Constantinople that 18,000 migrants had crossed the border, without providing evidence, adding that the number could rise to 25,000-30,000.

“We will not close these doors in the coming period and this will continue. Why? The European Union needs to keep its promises. We don’t have to take care of this many refugees, to feed them,” he said.

He complained that the EU hasn’t fulfilled fully its part of the swap deal that was supposed to deliver Turkey six billion euros ($6.62 billion,) visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and a faster-track entry into the bloc that has stalled after 15 years of trying.

Erdogan said he asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel to intervene to have the to send the funds directly to the Turkish government, which would put the money in his his hands and as Turkey has taken only about 2,000 deemed ineligible for asylum in Greece.

Turkey’s borders to Europe were closed to migrants under an accord between Turkey and the EU that drastically slowed a 2015-16 migration crisis when more than a million people crossed into Europe by foot and came to Greek islands.

In Athens, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said that more than 4,000 migrants had been prevented from crossing into Greece from Turkey and there were 66 arrests, with 17 immediately  given 3 ½ year jail sentences with no explanation as that hasn’t been done to the other 100,000.

Turkey had sent buses to help them get to the Greek border, media reports said, breaking the terms of the EU swap deal, as did Greece by prosecuting those who entered unlawfully but the government said it was limited to traffickers.

“Greece was the target of an organized, mass, illegal attempt to violate its borders and has withstood it,” Petsas told reporters after an emergency meeting of ministers at Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ office.

With increased military and police units trying to guard the porous land border with Turkey, 52 Navy and Coast Guard vessels were patrolling the seas off the Eastern Aegen islands which is the favorite destination for the refugees and migrants, Petsas said.

He added that none of the 66 arrested come from anywhere near the Idlib area in Syria, where Turkish forces were engaged in battle and took casualties,

Some small groups managed to get across into Greece, most from fghanistan, and most were men, although there were also some families with young children. They took shelter during the night in abandoned buildings or small chapels in the Greek countryside before starting to walk toward Greece, media reports said, including from Reuters.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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