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Turkey's Erdogan orders halt to boats crossing Aegean

March 7, 2020

The Turkish president has ordered his coast guard to prevent migrants and refugees from crossing the Aegean Sea. Erdogan has triggered a migrant crisis at the Greek border by falsely informing people the border was open.

Griechenland Flüchtlingsboot an der Küste von Lesbos
Image: Reuters/A. Konstantinidis

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the coast guard to prevent migrants and refugees crossing the Aegean Sea, the agency said on Friday.

"On the orders of the president... permission will not be given for migrants to cross the Aegean sea because it is dangerous," the coast guard said on Twitter on Friday.

Read more: 'We have no other choice': Afghans stranded at Greece's gates

"The approach of not intervening against migrants wishing to leave Turkey remains in practice but this (new) approach covers sea crossings because of the dangers."

Crossings from Turkey to Lesbos have surged in recent weeks after Turkey declared it would not stop migrants and refugees from attempting to reach the European Union.

Greece has accused Turkey of using the migrants and refugees as pawns in a political game, while the Turkish side has accused Greece of endangering migrants' lives by damaging their boats in the water. 

Turkey hosts nearly 4 million refugees from the Syrian war, and has a deal with the EU to prevent them from moving into the bloc.

Turkey claims the EU has failed to honor its promises and also wants support in Syria where it is fighting Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

Tensions at Turkey-Greece border

Tens of thousands of people have attempted to cross into the country, mainly through the land border, but also via the Aegean Sea into Lesbos.

Heavy-handed tactics

Greece has met crossing attempts with heavy-handed tactics, firing tear gas and water cannons to drive people back.

On Saturday, three-way clashes erupted when Europe-bound migrants reportedly threw rocks at authorities and attempted to pull down a fence. Greek police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, only to have their Turkish counterparts fire tear gas back at them. Two migrants were injured.

The fresh border surge has evoked memories of the 2015 migrant crisis, when more than 1 million refugees and migrants poured into Europe, prompting a surge in populist, right-wing politics.

Read more: Migrants stuck on EU doorstep: What is Germany doing?

Erdogan will travel to Brussels on Monday for a one-day working visit, his office announced on Saturday, without specifying who he would meet with.

The announcement came just hours after EU foreign ministers criticized Turkey for using the migrants' and refugees' desperation "for political purposes."

Erdogan reportedly told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday that the Turkey-EU migration deal is no longer working and needs to be revised.

aw/rc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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