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Clashes erupt on Greek-Turkish border as migrants seek entry

Turkey opened its borders with Europe last week, triggering days of violent clashes.

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A migrant runs to avoid tear gas thrown by Greek police during clashes near the Pazarkule border gate in Edirne, at the Turkish-Greek border on Monday, March 2, 2020.Thousands of migrants and refugees massed at Turkey’s western frontier Sunday, trying to enter Greece by land and sea after Turkey said its borders were open to those hoping to head to Europe. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

A migrant runs to avoid tear gas thrown by Greek police during clashes near the Pazarkule border gate in Edirne, at the Turkish-Greek border on Monday, March 2, 2020.Thousands of migrants and refugees massed at Turkey’s western frontier Sunday, trying to enter Greece by land and sea after Turkey said its borders were open to those hoping to head to Europe. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

A migrant runs to avoid tear gas thrown by Greek police during clashes near the Pazarkule border gate in Edirne, at the Turkish-Greek border on Monday, March 2, 2020.Thousands of migrants and refugees massed at Turkey’s western frontier Sunday, trying to enter Greece by land and sea after Turkey said its borders were open to those hoping to head to Europe. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Greek police have fired tear gas and stun grenades to repulse a push by migrants to cross its land border from Turkey after Ankara said the frontier with Europe was open to whoever wanted to cross.

The clashes were near the village of Kastanies, along a fence that covers much of the land border not marked by the Evros river.

Turkey made good on a threat to open its borders and allow migrants into Europe last week. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s action triggered days of clashes and chaos at the land border, where thousands of migrants and refugees have gathered.

Hundreds more have headed to Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in dinghies. One child died when the rubber dinghy he was in capsized off the coast of the Greek island of Lesbos earlier this week.

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

The Athens government has called the situation a direct threat to Greece’s national security and has imposed emergency measures to carry out swift deportations and freeze asylum applications for a month. Migrants have reported being summarily pushed back across the border into Turkey.

Turkey’s announcement that it would not stop those wishing to cross into Europe came amid a Russia-backed Syrian government offensive into Syria’s Idlib province, where Turkish troops are fighting.

The offensive has killed dozens of Turkish troops and sent nearly a million Syrian civilians towards Turkey’s sealed border.

However, Oleg Zhuravlev, head of the Russian military’s co-ordination centre in Syria, said claims about a humanitarian crisis in Idlib were false.

Casualties in Idlib
Casualties in Idlib (AP)

He said Turkish authorities were “herding” about 130,000 refugees, who were in temporary camps near the Turkey-Syria border, towards the border with Greece.

“Two-thirds of them aren’t Syrians,” he said. “They are Afghans, Iraqis and people from African nations.”

Greek authorities said Turkish police were firing tear gas at the border and the officers guarding it.

For its part, Turkey accused Greece of mistreating refugees.

“Greece treats refugees horribly and then turns around to blame Turkey,” tweeted Fahrettin Altun, the communications director of Turkey’s presidency.

“This is the kind of double standards and hypocrisy we have gotten used to over the years. The country that just suspended temporary protection and tear gassed migrations has no moral authority to speak of!”

Ursula von der Leyen visits the border
Ursula von der Leyen visits the border (Dimitris Papamitsos/Greek Prime Minister’s Office/AP)

European Council head Charles Michel is scheduled to meet Mr Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, while EU vice president Josep Borrell and commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic will hold talks with Turkish vice president Fuat Oktay.

Senior EU officials, including Mr Michel and European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, visited the Greek border area on Tuesday with Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who said Turkey “has systematically encouraged and assisted tens of thousands of refugees and migrants to illegally enter Greece”.

Greek authorities said there were about 15,000 people on the land border on Wednesday. They said that between Saturday morning and Wednesday morning, they had blocked 27,832 attempts to cross the border, and arrested 220 people who managed to cross.

Ms von der Leyen expressed support for Greece, noting the border is not just a national one but an external border of the EU. Those trying to cross into Greece had ”been lured by false promises into this desperate situation”, she said.

PA