Greece enhances security measures in Evros and Northern Aegean Islands – 4,000 illegal entries blocked.
Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA, Reuters)
Greek security forces were trying hard the past 48 hours to prevent thousands of migrants and refugees from crossing Greece’s northeastern boarders with Turkey, by River Evros, following Turkish authorities decision not to block them from leaving the country for Europe.
Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Patrick Kingsley in a story published in New York Times report that Turkish officials bought the migrants tickets and packed them into shiny Mercedes-Benz coaches, followed by Turkish state media that were covering the story. President Erdogan’s goal by sending refugees to the Greek border is to push Europe on Syria.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he had asked President Vladimir Putin for Russia to step aside in Syria and leave Turkey to deal with Syrian government forces alone, after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed this week. While Turkish foreign minister calls for U.S. Patriot missiles as support in Idlib. But, a senior administrative official told reporters on Friday that although the State Department is working on ways to assist “NATO ally Turkey”, there is no availability for patriot missiles.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Doha that the Idlib issue can only be settled in a meeting between Erdogan and Putin, which he said would take place on March 5 or March 6.
President Erdogan said on Saturday that 18,000 migrants has crossed the border to Europe from Turkey since the gates were opened, without providing evidence, and added that the number could rise to 25,000-30,000 on Saturday.
Greece and Bulgaria, both European Union member states neighboring Turkey, vowed not to admit the migrants. Greek police fired teargas toward migrants who were gathered on its border with Turkey and demanding entry on Saturday. Some migrant were throwing rocks at Greek police.
“We will not close these doors in the coming period and this will continue. Why? The European Union needs to keep its promises. We don’t have to take care of this many refugees, to feed them,” Erdogan said.
He said funds transferred to Turkey from the EU to support refugees were arriving too slowly and that he had asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel to send them directly to the Turkish government.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said he was planning to host a high-level meeting in Bulgaria to seek long-lasting solutions for Syria and migrants and would meet Erdogan on Monday to discuss it.
He said there was currently no migration pressure on the Balkan country’s border with Turkey.
“We have to do everything possible next week, very quickly, until Wednesday, Thursday at the latest, to provide Turkey with the necessary means so that it can take the migrants back and take care of them,” he told reporters.
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.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas on Saturday stressed that Greece’s “government is determined to do whatever it takes to safeguard our borders,” after the end of a broad meeting at Maximos Mansion on the migration crisis.
On Friday’s mass gathering of refugees at the Evros Greek-Turkish border, Petsas asserted that “yesterday Greece saw a massive, orchestrated, illegal attempt to violate its borders,” and he continued to say that “the country withstood it, protecting its own borders and Europe’s borders.”
“Yesterday we prevented more than 4,000 illegal entries. The 66 that went through are being held and have no relation to the situation in (Syria’s) Idlib,” he added.
Petsas emphasized that “we are strengthening our forces on land and at sea. Police and army forces are being transferred to the Evros region. The Coast Guard forces are being strengthened at the islands, and as of today, we have a total of 52 Coast Guard and Navy vessels patrolling our waters.”
Petsas characteristically said that “the government is determined to do whatever needs be done to guard our borders.”
Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis on Saturday reiterated Greece’s determination to effectively guard its borders, speaking at Orestiada, Evros, where large numbers of refugees coming from Turkey have been attempting to cross into Greece since Friday.
Chrisochoidis underlined that “the thousands of people amassing at our borders came because they are persecuted and used by Turkey.”
“We want to send a message in every direction that we will not let anyone pass through without legal travel documents. Greece has borders, Europe has borders and Greeks guard them,” he stressed.
Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias on Saturday requested an emergency meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council on the latest developments in the migration crisis, according to diplomatic sources.
The request was reportedly put through by Dendias over the telephone to the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy & Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, currently on official visit to Sudan’s capital Khartoum.
Earlier on Saturday Dendias held several telephonic discussions about this issue with his counterparts of Austria, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and on Friday night with his Turkish counterpart.
He also raised his concerns about the fledging migration crisis in a Friday meeting with US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt, diplomatic sources added on Saturday.
Main opposition Syriza party on Saturday called on the government to develop a national response strategy, in view of the latest unfolding developments of the migration crisis at Greece’s mainland and maritime borders.
In a statement, the party added that “the blunt tooling of refugees and migrants as leverage on Turkey’s part cannot be left unanswered by the European Union.”
It added that “the EU must ensure the implementation of the (2016 EU-Turkey) Joint Declaration, as well as assume responsibility for developing an effective plan to deal with the possibility of its annulment.”
Syriza also commented that “Erdogan’s choice to open the refugee viaduct is not accidental; it comes at a time when the government’s unprecedented and irresponsible manipulations at hotspot islands lead to divisions and clashes there akin to civil war.”
“The tooling of the migration crisis by Turkey in a period of regional geopolitical tension and unacceptable claims on its part – far beyond what is defined by international law in the eastern Mediterranean – does not allow for more of the government’s irresponsible and amateurish manipulations,” the party observed.
Main opposition Syriza party on Friday urged the government to call for an extraordinary EU summit, bearing in mind, it said, that “the (2016) EU-Turkey Joint Declaration for the management of the migration crisis is being actively challenged, and this demands an immediate European initiative,” after a broad meeting of leader Alexis Tsipras with Syriza officials who have served in government positions relating to the migration crisis.
Syriza stressed that “the EU must warrant the implementation of the agreement, as well as take responsibility for developing an effective plan to counter a possibility of its invalidation. A plan that obviously must be seen through by the principles of solidarity and the sharing of responsibility.”
The party also noted that “the Mitsotakis government’s responsibility for the current dramatic situation in our islands, are enormous and indisputable.”
It criticized the government that “over the last seven months it neglected to decongest the islands and transfer vulnerable groups of refugees to the mainland, all because it didn’t want to upset regional governors and mayors,” which the party called a small-minded policy.
Finally, Syriza said that while the government is “at a critical juncture, with Turkey escalating its threats and using refugees as leverage to blackmail, the government opted for an attitude of national irresponsibility, choosing instead to divide citizens, create an explosive social predicament and nurture pre-conditions of civil war.”