KASTANIES: Greece blocked hundreds of migrants trying to enter the country on Friday, with the prime minister declaring that “illegal” entries would not be tolerated, hours after Turkey said it would no longer prevent them from travelling to Europe.
At a border crossing in Kastanies in Greece’s north-eastern Evros region, army trucks loaded with barbed wire and armed soldiers stood ready after Athens said it was tightening controls “to the maximum level possible”.
“Significant numbers of migrants and refugees have gathered in large groups at the Greece-Turkey land border and have attempted to enter the country illegally,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a tweet.
“I want to be clear: no illegal entries into Greece will be tolerated. We are increasing our border security,” he said.
Athens said the head of Greece’s general staff and police minister had been dispatched to the area.
Earlier, around 300 asylum-seekers had arrived in the area, seemingly from Edirne in Turkey, army and police sources said.
“We have heard they would give the authorisation and we can all go,” said Sebghatullah Amani, a 20-year-old Afghan.
“So today we are all leaving and going to Germany,” he said at a bus station in Istanbul.
A private Turkish news agency said asylum-seekers were also assembling on Turkey’s western coast of Ayvacik to try to go to the Greek island of Lesbos by boat.
Two boats arrived in Lesbos with around 70 people on board, with many of them scrambling ashore carrying children on their backs.
Bulgaria boosts controls
In Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said police had been
sent “to our borders (with Turkey) early in the morning. It is worrying that the Turkish border guards have withdrawn.”
Bulgarian Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said on Friday that two groups of 30 people each tried to enter Bulgaria earlier in the day but were stopped in Turkey before crossing the border. He said 1,000 troops stood ready to reinforce the border if needed.
As well as trying to get to Europe via land, refugees were also attempting to reach Greece by sea.
Earlier, a senior Turkish official had said that Ankara would no longer close its border gates to refugees wanting to go to Europe, shortly after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Idlib, northern Syria.
“After developments in Idlib, (Athens) is in close contact with the EU and Nato,” a Greek government source said.
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.
Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2020