KASTANIES, Greece – With some 10,000 refugees and migrants at the Turkish border with Greece being kept away by Greek army units and riot police firing tear gas at them, video footage appeared to show tear gas being fired from the Turkish side too.
The standoff continued at the Evros River region where Turkey let refugees and migrants go in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he feared a mass incursion after the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers in Syria was expected to bring more refugees.
Greek authorities said that a Turkish riot police unit stationed about 40 meters (132.24 feet) from the frontier were using grenade launchers to fire the tear gas canisters into the buffer zone on the Greece-Turkey border, reported Kathimerini.
The air was thick with smoke on both the Greek and Turkish sides of the Kastanies border crossing, and fire engines trying to put out smoldering blazes on the ground, reported the news agency Reuters as tension soared, with Greek forces on high alert.
Kastanies has been the scene of sometimes violent clashes between Greek security forces and migrants since Feb. 29 although some refugees and migrants, stymied at trying to get across, left the border.
Greece, backed by the EU – which hasn’t issued sanctions against Erdogan – and Turkey have traded daily accusations about mistreatment of the migrants who are caught in a kind of no-man’s land between the countries.
The EU should Turkey should follow the swap deal although Erdogan accused the bloc of holding back 3 billion euros ($3.34 billion) from 6 billion euros ($6.68) promised Turkey not to release the refugees and migrants.
Greece has also responded by temporarily suspending all asylum applications for any new entries although long delays had led to frequent violence in detention centers on islands near Turkey with many waiting two years or more for their decisions.
New refugees and migrants won’t be registered and will be returned immediately to their country of origin, said the government of an act that will be retroactive effect and include all those that entered the country since March 1.
“The suspension of the asylum process sends a very important message that our country does not consider those who enter illegally as refugees,” said Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis, who said refugees and migrants were being exploited by Turkey to dispute Greece’s sovereign rights.