Greece blocks 35,000 migrants, plans to deport arrivals after March 1
KASTANIES, Greece/EDIRNE, Turkey: Greece has repulsed nearly 35,000 migrants trying to cross onto its territory illegally since Turkey opened its border nearly a week ago, government sources said on Thursday, as it prepares to deport hundreds of others who made it through.
Thousands of migrants have made for Greece since Ankara said on Feb. 28 that it would let migrants cross its borders into Europe, reneging on a commitment to hold them on its territory under a 2016 deal with the European Union.
Ankara has accused Greek forces of shooting dead four migrants, a charge rejected by Athens, which says Turkish forces are helping the migrants to cross the border. Both sides used tear gas at the Kastanies border post on Wednesday.
Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, visited Edirne province bordering Greece on Thursday and announced the deployment of 1,000 special police to the area to halt the pushback of migrants toward its territory.
Soylu, who said on Wednesday that Turkey was preparing a case at the European Court of Human Rights over Greece’s treatment of migrants, accused Greek forces of wounding 164 people and pushing back nearly 5,000 into Turkey.
Greece on Thursday banned most vessels from sailing around the Aegean islands of Chios, Lesbos and Samos. They are all close to the Turkish coast and a regular target for dinghies packed with migrants trying to enter the EU.
Choppy seas discouraged dinghies from making the crossing on Thursday, though in the evening a boat carrying 42 mostly Afghan migrants reached Lesbos. The UN refugee agency handed out snacks and blankets to the group, which included about 10 children.
Lesbos already hosts more than 20,000 asylum seekers, many of them living in filthy conditions in overcrowded camps.
The situation at the Kastanies land border crossing in northern Greece was calm on Thursday.
Migrants, who include Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis and Africans, huddled in tents and makeshift camps on the Turkish side of the border. Others stood in line to receive food packages from aid agencies.
Greek border guards rebuffed nearly 7,000 attempts in the last 24 hours alone, taking the total since Feb. 29 to 34,778 and the number of arrests of those who got through to 244, the Greek government sources said. – Reuters