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Turkey to deploy special forces alongside land border with Greece

The measure is intended to prevent Greek authorities from pushing back migrants.

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Turkish police stand by migrants camping in Edirne near the Turkish-Greek border (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Turkish police stand by migrants camping in Edirne near the Turkish-Greek border (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Turkish police stand by migrants camping in Edirne near the Turkish-Greek border (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Turkey said it would deploy special forces along its land border with Greece to prevent Greek authorities from pushing back migrants trying to cross into Europe, after Turkey declared its previously guarded gateways to Europe open.

Thousands of migrants and refugees have tried to cross into Greece from the Turkish land and sea border in the past week.

Clashes have been frequent, with Greek police firing tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to repel thousands of people trying to breach the border.

Greek authorities say Turkish police have also fired tear gas at them in an effort to disperse border guards.

Turkey Greece Migrants
A migrant lifts a child in Edirne (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Turkey says Greek authorities were also firing live ammunition at the migrants, and the country’s interior minister Suleyman Soylu said on Wednesday Turkey would make a case in the European Court of Human Rights for a migrant it says was shot dead by Greek authorities on the border.

The Greek government has denied any such incident occurred, calling it “fake news”.

Mr Soylu, who visited the border area Thursday, said Turkey would deploy 1,000 special forces along its land border to prevent Greek authorities from pushing back those attempting to cross.

“As of this morning … we are bringing 1,000 fully equipped special forces police (along) the Meric river system to prevent the push backs,” Mr Soylu said.

“With the help of Zodiac boats they will (prevent) those who mistreat people.”

Mr Soylu said Greece had tried to push back around 4,900 migrants in violation of international conventions, and accused the European Union and Europe’s border protection agency Frontex of remaining silent.

Turkey Greece Migrants
Migrants walk on a bridge (Darko Bandic/AP)

An estimated 4,000-5,000 people were near the Pazarkule border crossing, opposite the Greek village of Kastanies, and were being prevented from crossing, Mr Soylu said.

“It is a border gate, they are obliged to take them in. They are obliged to take in asylum-seekers,” the minister said.

But he added the migrants were not obliged to use the official border crossing and could cross anywhere along the roughly 125-mile long border.

Much of the border is demarcated by a river, and many migrants have tried wading, rowing or swimming across it.

“I want to say that there is no rule that says they have to cross from Pazarkule,” Mr Soylu said.

The minister asserted that more than 130,000 migrants had crossed into Greece since February 27, when Turkey made good on a threat to open its borders and allow migrants and refugees to head for Europe.

He said around 20-25% of those who reached Greece were Syrians.

Turkey Greece Migrants
Migrants sit by a fire in a city market area in Edirne (Emrah Gurel/AP)

There was no evidence to support the claim.

Although hundreds of people have managed to cross, most appear to have been caught by Greek authorities.

Many have said they have been summarily pushed back into Turkey after being detained.

Greek authorities said that from Saturday morning until Thursday morning, they had thwarted 34,778 attempts to cross the border, and 244 people had been arrested.

That includes 6,955 attempts to cross the border in the 24 hours between Wednesday morning and Thursday morning.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to open its gateways to Europe has raised concerns within the European Union, which was holding a foreign ministers’ meeting in Zagreb, Croatia.

Turkey Greece Migrants
Migrant children sleep on the pavement (Darko Bandic/AP)

His move to open the border to Europe came amid a Russia-backed Syrian government offensive into Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, where Turkish troops are fighting.

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

Mr Erdogan, whose country currently houses more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, had frequently threatened to open Turkey’s borders and send migrants and refugees into Europe.

He maintains the EU has not upheld its end of a more than 6 billion euro deal designed to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, after more than a million people crossed into the EU in 2015.

“We are no longer preventing crossings into Greece and Europe,” Mr Soylu said.

“Those who come can come, those who can cross can cross.”

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Migrants walk in Edirne near the Turkish-Greek border (Darko Bandic/AP)

“For some nine years, Turkey has shouldered a humanitarian tragedy that the world has ignored,” the minister said.

“I am sad to say that it has shouldered this despite the fact that countries that consider themselves to be civilised have turned their backs.”

Greece’s government has called the situation a direct threat to the country’s national security and has imposed emergency measures to carry out swift deportations and freeze asylum applications for one month — moves which have come under criticism from human rights groups and refugee aid agencies.

PA