Migrants trickled through permeable borders to Greece from Turkey on Sunday, as thousands more gathered on the Turkish side seeking entry after Ankara relaxed curbs on their movement.
At least 220 people had arrived by sea on the Greek island of Lesbos on Sunday morning, a Greek defense ministry source said.
Further north, groups waded across a river at Kastanies on the shared border.
Turkey said on Thursday it would no longer restrain hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in its territory from reaching Europe, after an air strike on Idlib in neighboring Syria killed 33 Turkish soldiers. Its announcement triggered an almost instant rush to the borders it shares with European Union member Greece.
There was tension at Kastanies on Saturday after riot police used teargas to repel hundreds of migrants on the Turkish side demanding access to Greece.
“Yesterday there were 9,600 attempts to violate our borders, and all were dealt with successfully,” deputy defense minister Alkiviadis Stefanis told Greece’s Skai TV.
Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias said Greece is responding calmly and prudently – but also decisively – to the infringing and often provocative Turkish attitude, in an interview with militaire.gr.
“Greece has consciously chosen to act as a pillar of stability in the region, as a responsible agent of peace, not as a source of turmoil and problems, like Turkey,” highlighted Dendias.
He underlined that “we fully safeguard our territorial interests and sovereignty, aligned with the requirements of International Law.”
The foreign minister noted that Turkey’s offensive practices may not be new to Greece; however “it seems that lately it is pursuing a ‘rebuilding’ of its Ottoman past, in growing intensity.”
Greece’s “calm, sober, but in any case decisive and steady reaction should not be seen as tolerance, and in no case as a back-down to Turkey,” he emphasized.
Concerning the EU, he referred to the conclusions of the European Council that explicitly condemn Turkish actions, but also to the sanctions they impose on Turkey.
“This is the first time sanctions have been imposed on a country candidate for EU accession,” Dendias concluded.
In a statement on Saturday, President of the European Council Charles Michel explicitly supported Greece’s intensified border guarding, as “the EU is actively engaged to uphold the EU-Turkey Statement and to support Greece and Bulgaria to protect the EU’s external borders.”
President Michel also made known he has been in close contact with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Bulgarian PM Borissov to follow the migration situation, and has been closely following the situation in Syria and Turkey.
Leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament Manfred Weber on Saturday expressed his support for Greece’s efforts in safeguarding its borders, in light of refugees from Turkey amassing at the country’s’ northernmost crossings.
On Twitter, he wrote that “we support the Greek government’s decision to maintain control of their border with Turkey. We expect the Turkish authorities to respect our agreement and reestablish order. We are ready to help the victims of Idlib but we will not tolerate illegal border crossings into Europe.”
More police deployed to Evros’ Greek-Turkish border
The deployment of additional police forces to reinforce the Greek border guard in the northern part of the Evros region continued on Saturday, while groups of refugees amassed on the Turkish side of the border seeking to cross into Greece.
Army forces have been patrolling the riverbank since Friday evening and into Saturday, as several crossing attempts at night by groups of refugees were thwarted by security forces, who in one case made limited use of tear gas.
Despite repelling these attempts, many individuals were found to be walking the fields on the Greek side early on Saturday morning.
On Saturday, hundreds of refugees were seen to approach – some by foot, others in transport – the Evros borders only to end up stranded behind wire fencing or stuck on the Turkish coast of Evros. They had been reportedly exposed to the heavy rain that befell the area overnight.
Frontex men and Greek helicopters had been scanning the entire region at night using land-based thermal cameras, aided by increased Coast Guard inspections off the shore of Alexandroupolis.