KASTANIES/LESBOS, Greece (Reuters) – Greek security forces used tear gas and water cannon on Wednesday against hundreds of migrants trying to cross the border from Turkey, as Athens and Ankara accused each other of lying about what was happening.
Soldiers stand guard as tear gas is being fired near the Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing, in Kastanies, Greece March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Florion Goga
More than 10,000 migrants have been trying to breach the border since Turkey said last Thursday it would no longer abide by a 2016 deal with the European Union to halt illegal migration flows to Europe in return for billions of euros in aid.
Turkish officials said Greek forces had killed a migrant on the border on Wednesday, a claim denied by Greece.
Plumes of black smoke drifted above the Kastanies border crossing as Greek soldiers fired warning shots in the air.
A Reuters witness saw teargas canisters being thrown from the Turkish side of the border toward Greek police over a high razor wire. The Greek government later released a video it said showed Turkish border guards were firing the canisters.
Greece and the EU accuse Turkey of deliberately encouraging the migrants to attempt to cross the border as a way of pressuring Brussels into offering more money or supporting Ankara’s geopolitical aims in the Syrian conflict.
Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and faces another influx from an upsurge in fighting in northwest Syria, says the EU is not providing anything like enough help to deal with the scale of the migrant crisis.
Turkish officials said Greek forces had killed a migrant and wounded five others on Wednesday at the border, prompting Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas to say: “Turkey is disseminating fake news… I dismiss this categorically.”
Greece similarly denied a Turkish claim on Tuesday that its forces had killed three migrants at the border.
Video footage on Wednesday showed migrants carrying an injured comrade away from the border. It was unclear how he had been hurt.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told lawmakers of his ruling AK Party in Ankara on Wednesday that Greece, and the EU generally, must “act in line with the Human Rights Declaration and respect the migrants arriving on their land”.
EU leaders on Tuesday pledged 700 million euros to help Greece handle the migrant crisis and urged Turkey to hold up its end of the 2016 accord.
They fear a repeat of the 2015-16 migrant crisis, when more than a million migrants came to western Europe via Turkey and the Balkans, straining European security and welfare services and boosting support for far-right parties.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known for his tough anti-immigrant stance, said 130,000 migrants had already passed the Greek border from Turkey and that they must be stopped as far south as possible. It was unclear how he arrived at that figure, which is much higher than any previously mentioned.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of Bulgaria, which also shares a land border with Turkey, called after talks with EU officials on Wednesday for renewed dialogue with Ankara on how to handle the migrants and shore up regional stability.
An unknown number of migrants have also arrived on Lesbos and other Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in the past week, though choppy seas discouraged sailings for a second consecutive day on Wednesday.
A navy ship docked at Lesbos port will take in 508 migrants who have arrived since March 2 once they have been identified, a Greek coastguard official said. He did not say where the ship would take them.
Hussein, in a group of about 100 migrants which arrived in Lesbos four days ago and has been camping on the shore, said he left Afghanistan with his 17-year-old brother a month ago and crossed Iran and Turkey before reaching the island by dinghy.
“Our future is going to be bright because I am an educated person so I don’t need much help. I want to complete my education and then I will need a job,” he told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Michele Kambas, Foo Yun Chee and George Georgiopoulos in Athens, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul and Marton Dunai in Budapest; writing by Gareth Jones; editing by Mike Collett-White