PAZARKULE, Turkey: Greece said yesterday it has blocked nearly 10,000 migrants at its border with Turkey, which opened its gates to Europe as tensions mount over its deepening conflict in Syria.
Migrant numbers have swelled along the rugged frontier after Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it “opened the doors” to Europe in a bid to pressure EU governments over the conflict.
Tensions have soared between Russia and Turkey after an airstrike killed dozens of Turkish soldiers in Idlib last week.
Some 13,000 migrants have amassed at the Turkey-Greece border, including families with young children who spent the night in the cold, the International Organization for Migration said.
An estimated additional 2,000 migrants arrived at the Pazarkule border gate yesterday, including Afghans, Syrians and Iraqis.
But as the crowds rushed to enter Europe, Greek police and soldiers blocked 9,972 “illegal entrances” from entering the northeastern Evros region in the past 24 hours.
“We are protecting the borders of Greece and Europe with a firm hand”, Alkiviadis Stefanis said.
Migrants pressed on with efforts to enter Greece.
Some attempted to swim across rivers or duck under fences, while others dragged suitcases as they marched toward the border where large crowds of migrants waited, some wrapped in blankets or sleeping on dirt mounds.
Despite Greece’s efforts to repel the crowds, several boats full of migrants arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos early Sunday.
Clashes erupted between police and migrants on Saturday on the Greece-Turkey border, with police firing teargas at refugees who responded by lobbing rocks.
Greek authorities said at least 139 migrants have been arrested since Friday.
The EU’s border protection agency Frontex told AFP Sunday it was on “high alert” at Turkey’s borders with Europe and that it has “taken steps to redeploy to Greece technical equipment and additional officers.”
It had received request for support from Greece.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday said the EU was watching “with concern” and stood ready to deploy its Frontex border guard agency.