At least 18,000 migrants have crossed the border between Turkey and Europe in one day. That was announced today by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Greece says that at least 66 migrants have been arrested and around 4,000 have been arrested.
Turkish officials said yesterday that refugees who want to go to Europe will no longer be stopped. This in response to the deteriorating situation in the Syrian city of Idlib. The Syrian regime, supported by Russia, carried out air strikes there on Thursday. 33 Turkish soldiers were killed. Turkey would no longer feel bound by the 2016 agreements with the EU if the situation worsened.
President Erdogan confirmed the change of course today and says that he leaves the borders open to Europe. He said to expect that between 25,000 and 30,000 refugees could have entered Europe until Sunday.
“What did we do yesterday? We have opened the doors. We will not close them … Why? Because the European Union must keep its promises, “Erdogan said this morning. He believes that the EU is helping Ankara too little to bear the burden of refugee flows. The president said he expected that between 25,000 and 30,000 refugees had entered Europe until Sunday.
According to a New York Times correspondent, Turkey transports migrants free of charge by bus to the border with Greece. “Greece won’t let them in. Thousands are trapped in no man’s land. So far it’s one big media stunt, “Patrick Kingsley writes on Twitter.
Turkey is packing migrants onto state-funded coaches — for free — & driving them to the Greek border.
Greece won’t let them in.
So 1000s are now stuck in no man’s land.
So far this one big media stunt. But how long will Erdogan keep at it?
— Patrick Kingsley (@PatrickKingsley) February 29, 2020
Greece says it has prevented 4,000 migrants from entering the country in the last 24 hours. The refugees are in no man’s land between the Turkish and Greek borders. The Greek authorities say they are determined to protect national borders. “The government will do everything it can,” said government spokesperson Stelios Petsas. “This has nothing to do with Idlib,” he said.
According to him, the Greek border police arrested at least 66 people who had crossed the border illegally from Turkey. According to Petsas, they were part of a large group of refugees who were trying to enter the EU en masse. It was an organized attempt to cross the border, the spokesman said.
“More than 4000 illegal border crossings have been averted,” said Petsas on state television ERT after a crisis meeting led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “We have stood firm and have protected our borders, which are also EU borders.”
Athens has not only sent extra people to the borders with Turkey on the land, there are also extra ships patrolling the Greek islands in the east of the Aegean Sea. More than fifty Coast Guard and Navy ships have been deployed, the government spokesman said.
The Greek police fired tear gas to push back the migrants who tried to cross the border from Turkey. Some people threw stones at the police, reporters from AFP news agency noted. The clashes at the Turkish border crossing at Pazarkule (Kastanies on the Greek side) broke out after Turkey announced yesterday that it would no longer prevent migrants from moving to Europe. Thousands of migrants spent the night at the border and gathered around fire pits.
Bulgaria and Hungary
In addition to Greece, Bulgaria also tightened checks at the border with Turkey. Hungary will also step up controls at the southern border of the country. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán decided this after a telephone interview with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reports the press service of the Hungarian government.
After the phone call, Orbán, known for his anti-migration attitude, called the security cabinet. “Hungary must strengthen the protection of its borders and pay special attention to developments on the Balkan migration route”, concluded the ministers present.