Europe, and especially Greece are preparing for migration crisis round two, amidst threats from Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to fully open the borders for Syrian refugees.
Since Saturday, an estimate of 18,000 migrants crossed the western border from Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria without providing supporting evidence or identification at the same time an even greater number was being repelled by Greek border patrols firing teargas and stun grenades.
In an unexpected move, Erdoğan said in Istanbul on Saturday that “We will not close these doors in the coming period and this will continue. Why? The European Union needs to keep its promises. We are not obliged to look after and feed so many refugees. If you’re honest, if you’re sincere, then you need to share.”
Following the largest single loss of life to Turkish forces since Ankara’s new military campaign in the north-western province of Idlib, Syria’s last rebel fortress, costing the lives of 33 Turkish soldiers during an airstrike on Thursday night, Erdoğan said Turkey cannot not handle a new wave of migration. He recalled the accord Turkey and the EU signed back in 2016 to control westward migration in exchange for financial aid.
The move to open the border allowing unregulated migration towards Europe was also seen as a last resort to manipulate the EU and Nato into supporting Ankara’s military agenda.
Greek border patrols tried to hold the barracks even though “A titanic battle [is being waged] to keep our frontiers closed,” according to Panayiotis Harelas, who heads the federation of border guards. Fifty-two ships were patrolled Lesvos, Chios and other Aegean isles across the water frontier, in an apparent show of force to deter clandestine vessels while Bulgaria sent an extra 1,000 troops to its border with Turkey.
“More than 4,000 illegal entries”, Greek government spokesperson, Stelios Petsas, said after an emergency meeting of ministers following the land-border breach that resulted in the arrest of 66 people without papers making their way into Greece through forest land.
There are more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, with Erdoğan threatening that the number of people entering Europe from Turkey could rise to up to 30,000 unless Russian president Vladimir Putin does not end his support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that closing the border is also necessary in order to prevent the coronavirus from reaching the Aegean island of Lesvos, where thousands of migrants live in poor conditions as they wait for their asylum applications to be processed.