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Migrants find confusion, chaos on Greece-Turkey border

Costas Kantouris and Elena Becatoros
Associated Press

Kastanies, Greece – Clashes between Greek riot police and migrants attempting to cross the border from Turkey erupted anew Friday as European Union foreign ministers criticized Turkey for using migrants’ desperation “for political purposes.”

Greek riot police used tear gas and a water cannon in the morning to drive back people trying to cross its land border with Turkey. Turkish police fired volleys of tear gas back toward Greece in an ongoing standoff between Ankara and the EU over who should care for migrants and refugees.

Migrants carry an injured man during clashes at the Pazarkule border gate, Turkey, at the Turkish-Greek border on Friday, March 6, 2020.

Similar clashes erupted later Friday, and fires were burning on the Turkish side of the border which Greek officials said were lit by migrants. At other times the area was calm.

Thousands of refugees and other migrants have been trying to get into EU member Greece in the past week after Turkey declared that its previously guarded borders with Europe were open. Following months of threats, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that his country, which already houses more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, would no longer be Europe’s gatekeeper.

His move alarmed EU countries, which are still enduring political fallout from a wave of mass migration five years ago.

Greek authorities said they have thwarted more than 38,000 attempted border crossings in the past week, and arrested 268 people – mostly Afghans and only 4% Syrians.

Erdogan has demanded that Europe shoulder more of the burden of caring for refugees. But the EU insists it is abiding by a 2016 deal in which it gave Turkey billions in refugee aid in return for keeping refugees on its soil.

Erdogan spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the phone Friday, telling her the Turkey-EU migration deal is no longer working and needs to be revised, according to his office.

EU foreign ministers, meanwhile, met in Zagreb, Croatia on Friday to discuss the Greece-Turkey border situation and events in Syria, where Turkish troops are fighting. Erdogan has cited a potential new wave of refugees from Syria as part of his reasons for opening the border.

The ministers acknowledged Turkey’s role in hosting millions of migrants and refugees, but said the EU “strongly rejects Turkey’s use of migratory pressure for political purposes. This situation at the EU external border is not acceptable.”

In a joint statement after the emergency meeting, the ministers expressed “full solidarity with Greece, which faces an unprecedented situation.” They said the EU was determined to protect its external borders.

The EU’s border agency Frontex said Friday it will deploy 100 more guards to the Greek land border. It already has 509 officers in the country. It will also provide two more boats, three aircraft, one helicopter and three more thermal imaging vans to help police Greece’s land and sea borders.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the ministers urged Turkey to stop falsely telling migrants that the EU border is open.

“Encouraging refugees and migrants to attempt illegal crossing into European Union is not the way for Turkey to push for further support from the European Union,” he said.

The push to the Greek border, which began last week, has appeared organized by someone, with buses, minibuses and cars ferrying people from Istanbul.

Mohammad Omid, an Afghan who has been at the border for five days with his wife, said Turkish police told him to go to there.

“We don’t know what is happening,” he said in the border town of Edirne. “We are like a ball to them. Everyone passes us to this side and the other side. . . .”