| 10.9°C Belfast

Boy dies after boat capsizes as migrants try to cross Greek-Turkish border

It was the first death since Turkey announced it was easing restrictions on those wishing to cross into Europe.

Close

Migrants arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

Migrants arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

Migrants arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

A boy has died after a boat full of migrants heading to a Greek island capsized, as a wave of thousands tried to cross Greece’s land and sea borders.

The death was the first since neighbouring Turkey announced on Thursday that it was easing restrictions on those wishing to cross to Europe, and thousands of migrants began massing at the borders with Greece.

Greek authorities said they had stopped more than 24,000 attempted illegal crossings at the land border since early Saturday, and arrested 183 people.

Turkey’s announcement marked a dramatic departure from its previous policy of containing refugees and other migrants under an agreement with the European Union.

A migrant runs to avoid tear gas thrown by Greek police
A migrant runs to avoid tear gas thrown by Greek police (Darko Bandic/AP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, has demanded more support from Europe in dealing with the fallout from the Syrian war to its south.

As European countries rushed to back Greece, Mr Erdogan said on Monday that Western leaders were calling him and urging him to reverse the border opening. “It’s done, the gates are open now. You will have your share of this burden now,” he said he told them.

Soon “the number of people going to the border will be expressed in millions”, he said.

Greece, which has made clear its borders will remain closed, says it is faced with an organised Turkish campaign to push people through.

The two uneasy Nato allies are historic regional rivals who have come close to war three times in the past half a century, and even before the migration crisis relations were tense over undersea exploitation rights.

Migrants gather in a field at the Turkish-Greek border
Migrants gather in a field at the Turkish-Greek border (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Greek development minister Adonis Georgiadis said Greece faces “an organised invasion from a foreign country”.

“Turkey is making use of innocent people in its efforts to destabilise Greece and Europe,” he said.

The government has sent army and police reinforcements to its borders and suspended asylum applications for a month. It says it will return those entering the country illegally without registering them.

On Monday, Greek border guards stopped 4,354 people who attempted to cross the land border, either by cutting or climbing the fence or crossing the Evros River, authorities said

At one site, Greek police fired tear gas at migrants throwing stones as they tried to push through, while other migrants held white flags, shouting “peace, peace”, and asking to be let in.

In the 24 hours until Monday morning, 977 people crossing on boats reached Greek islands near the Turkish coast, the coastguard said.

One dinghy carrying 48 migrants heading to the island of Lesbos was accompanied by a Turkish patrol vessel in Turkish waters. The migrants deliberately overturned their boat once in Greek waters, the Greek coastguard said.

The coastguard said it rescued the migrants, but one boy, aged six or seven and believed to be from Syria, was unconscious and efforts to revive him failed.

Under a 2016 deal, Turkey agreed to stem the tide of refugees to Europe in return for more than 6 billion euros in financial aid after more than a million people entered Europe in 2015.

Ankara has since accused the EU of failing to honour the agreement.

PA