Greece repulsed 35 000 migrants trying to cross into its territory illegally since Turkey opened its border a week ago, government sources said, as it prepares to deport hundreds of others who made it.
Thousands of migrants made for Greece since Ankara said in February it would let migrants cross its borders into Europe, reneging on a commitment to hold them in terms of a 2016 deal with the European Union.
Ankara accused Greek forces of shooting and killing four migrants, a charge rejected by Athens, which says Turkish forces help migrants to cross the border. Both sides used teargas at the Kastanies border post on Wednesday.
Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, visited Edirne province bordering Greece and announced deployment of 1 000 special police to halt the pushback of migrants.
Soylu, who said 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 5 000 back into Turkey.
Greece banned most vessels 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, though in the evening a boat carrying 42 Afghan migrants reached Lesbos. The UN refugee agency handed food and blankets to the group, including 10 children.
Lesbos already hosts more than 20 000 asylum seekers, many living in filthy conditions in overcrowded camps.
The situation at the Kastanies land border crossing in northern Greece was calm on Thursday.
Migrants, including Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis and Africans huddled in tents and makeshift camps on the Turkish side of the border. Others waited for food packages from aid agencies.
HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS
Greek border guards rebuffed 7 000 crossing attempts in 24 hours, taking the total since 29 February to 34778 and arrests 244, Greek government sources said.
Migrants who arrived in Greece illegally after 1 March will be transferred to Serres and deported to their own countries, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said.
“Our aim is to return them to their countries,” he told the Athens News Agency.
Mitarachi said migrants who entered Greece prior to 1 January, 2019 and are living on Aegean islands would be transferred to the mainland in the coming days.
Athens announced on March 1 it would not accept new asylum applications for a month following the build-up of migrants at the border. This triggered criticism from human rights agencies.
“It’s sad we have again seen human beings treated as political weapons. This is unacceptable,” said Francesco Rocca, head of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
UN migration agency, IOM, urged countries to respect migrants’ human rights.
“International legal obligations must be upheld, in particular with respect to those in need of international protection,” it said in a statement.
Greece and the EU accuse Turkey of goading migrants to cross the border as a way of pressuring Brussels into offering funds or supporting Ankara’s geopolitical aims in the Syrian conflict.
Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and faces another influx amid increased fighting in northwest Syria, cannot take in more people.
President Tayyip Erdogan discussed the migrant issue with senior EU officials in Ankara with his spokesman saying the Europeans made “no concrete proposition” on resolving the crisis.