Hundreds head towards Europe border after reports Turkey 'opens gates'

Greece boosts border patrols to prevent refugees from entering

By: AFP      Published: 12:13 PM, 28 Feb, 2020
Hundreds head towards Europe border after reports Turkey 'opens gates'
Photo: social media
Hundreds head towards Europe border after reports Turkey 'opens gates'

Hundreds of migrants in Turkey were heading towards border regions with Europe, local media reported Friday, after reports said Turkish authorities had "opened the gates".

The movement of people came after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib in an airstrike on Thursday blamed on Damascus.

Pro-government daily Sabah said the decision to "open the border gates" was taken following an emergency meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday.

Nearly 300 migrants arrived in Edirne province on the border with Greece in a bid to go to Europe, the private DHA news agency reported.

The group included Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Moroccans and Pakistanis, who told the agency they had come to the border after hearing the news about the soldiers.

Another group of migrants arrived at the coast of Ayvacik in Canakkale, western Turkey, and wanted to go to Lesbos by boats after reading reports of an "open-door policy", DHA reported.

The agency published images of people carrying their belongings, walking in the dead of night in Edirne and Canakkale.

Some 32 soldiers were also injured after the airstrike in Idlib, blamed on Damascus, the governor of Turkish border province Hatay said.

Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib as part of a 2018 deal with Russia to prevent a regime offensive.

But in recent months, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has pushed an assault to retake the last rebel bastion backed by Russian airstrikes, killing hundreds of civilians.

Hundreds of thousands of more Syrians in Idlib have been forced to flee their homes and head towards the Turkish border.

Turkey, which is already home to around 3.6 million Syrian refugees, fears more people arriving in the country where there is growing popular discontent towards refugees.

"We said we could not handle the pressure of newly-arrived refugees," Erdogan's ruling party spokesman Omer Celik told CNN Turk broadcaster early Friday.

"Our refugee policy remains the same but there is a situation at hand and we are not in a position to hold this," Celik said.

"There is only one thing the European Union can do and that is help the Turkish republic," he added.

Erdogan previously threatened to open the gates to Europe late last year as he sought more international support.

Greece

Greece on Friday boosted border patrols after Turkey said it would no longer prevent refugees from going to Europe, officials said.

"Greece has tightened the guarding of its borders to the maximum level possible," a government source said.

A police source told AFP border patrols had been doubled and a general call for heightened readiness had been issued.

"Everything is under control, there is no reason for concern," the source told AFP.

"We are monitoring the situation and adapting our forces (accordingly)," another police source said.

An army source said around 300 people had been spotted on the Turkish side of the border in the northeastern Evros region.

"These numbers are not out of the ordinary," the officer said.

"After developments in Idlib, (Athens) is in close contact with the EU and NATO," the Greek government source said.

An emergency NATO ruling council meeting will be held on Friday over the Syria crisis.

In addition to the asylum-seekers on the land border with Greece, Turkey's private DHA news agency said other migrants had arrived on the coast of Ayvacik in Canakkale, western Turkey, seeking to travel to the Greek island of Lesbos by boats. 

AFP reporters on Lesbos said just one boat had arrived with 15 Afghans on board, including several children.

Afghan refugees, 5 children, 3 women and 7 men, disembark from a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos on February 28, 2020. - AFP Photo

Turkey, which is already home to around 3.6 million Syrian refugees, fears more people arriving in the country where there is growing popular discontent against their presence.

Greece and its EU partners fear another influx of refugees from Syria after more than one million made their way there in 2015 before an EU-Turkey accord was reached on controlling the numbers.

Greece is already struggling to accommodate thousands of asylum-seekers stranded in the country for the past five years, especially on the islands, where migrant camps are stretched far beyond capacity.

More than 38,000 migrants are crowded into camps on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, several times over the official capacity of just 6,200.

Only a few hundred migrants have been sent back to Turkey, and just a handful of European states have offered to accept refugees from Greece after EU borders were shut in 2016.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which came to power in July, has failed to persuade Greek island authorities to accept the creation of new camp facilities.

Camps on the Greek mainland are also full, and local authorities there also oppose efforts to relocate additional asylum-seekers.

Earlier this week, the government tried to push forward with its camp plans by sending riot police and construction machinery to Lesbos and Chios.

But after days of violent skirmishes with local protesters that left dozens injured, the police were pulled back on Thursday.

Mitsotakis has announced he will visit Samos, Lesbos and Chios after meeting with local mayors on Thursday in a bid to defuse tension.

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