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Greek police fire tear gas at migrants on Turkish border

February 29, 2020

Greek police have clashed with migrants on the Turkish border where as many as 4,000 people attempted to cross into the EU. On Friday, Ankara said it would no longer stop migrants from crossing into Greece.

Police use tear gas against migrants
Image: Getty Images/AFP/O. Kose

Migrants and Greek police clashed along the Turkish-Greek border on Saturday, as Greek authorities claim they blocked 4,000 refugees from "illegally" entering the EU.

Police fired tear gas at migrants who amassed at a border crossing in the Turkish state of Edirne. There were also reports of stones being hurled by refugees at the officers.

"Greek border police have been frequently firing pepper [and] tear gas to hold people back," DW's Turkey correspondent Julia Hahn, who is at the border, wrote on Twitter.

"The situation is very dramatic," Hahn said. Adding that "hundreds of migrants" attempted to enter no man's land. "Some have tears in their eyes, are coughing, some look like they're about to faint." 

"Some are saying that the people here are being used as a bargaining chip in a political game," she added.

Hahn witnessed people crossing under a fence into the border area. Speaking to one Afghan man who told her: "I don't know why they're doing this. We came here to make a new life, but they won't let us enter."

Migrants trapped at Turkey-Greece border

Diplomatic responses

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that around 18,000 migrants had crossed Turkey's border into Europe. The president did not provide evidence for the number, but said it would rise. 

Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias called for a special meeting with his EU counterparts after Turkey opened border crossings for migrants, according to Greek state broadcaster ERT.

The possibility of a new wave of migrants has spurred other European countries to prepare. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hinted that borders could be closed across the Balkans in response to Turkey's threat.

"We are in constant contact with our partners in the EU and along the western Balkan route. Should the protection of the EU's external borders not succeed, then Austria will protect its borders," Kurz said in a statement.

However, Bulgaria denied that there were any problems at its border following a boost to security on Friday. "There is zero migration at our border with Turkey," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said. 

Why are migrants trying to enter Greece now?

Greece bolstered its border security on Friday after Turkey said it would no longer prevent refugees from crossing into Europe following the killing of 33 Turkish troops in northern Syria.

"The government will do whatever it takes to protect its borders," Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.

"This has nothing to do with Idlib," added Petsas.

Read more: Will the EU-Turkey refugee deal collapse?

On Saturday, Erdogan vowed to uphold Friday's threat to allow refugees to travel on to Europe from Turkey. He says Turkey can no longer handle new waves of people fleeing war-torn Syria.

"What did we do [on Friday]? We opened the doors," Erdogan said in Istanbul in his first comments since 33 Turkish troops were killed in northern Syria on Thursday. "We will not close those doors. Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises."

Meanwhile, Turkish drone strikes killed 26 Syrian soldiers in northwest Syria on Saturday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor. 

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lc,ed/jlw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)