KASTANIES, Greece/PAZARKULE, Turkey (Reuters) — Migrants stuck on the Turkish side of the border with Greece tried to dodge tear gas canisters on Friday as a tense standoff between Greek and Turkish security forces entered a second week with no sign of abating.
Tens of thousands of migrants are attempting to cross from Turkey into the European Union after Ankara said on Feb. 28 it would no longer try to keep them on its territory under the terms of a 2016 accord with Brussels in return for EU aid.
Thick smoke from the tear gas canisters wreathed the border posts at the Kastanies/Pazarkule crossing. A Reuters reporter saw Greek forces use a water cannon to try to disperse migrants, only to be met by a volley of tear gas from the Turkish side.
“The attacks are coordinated by drones. Apart from intimidation, these attacks are taking place from the Turkish police to help migrants cross the fence border line,” a Greek government official said.
Turkey has said any tear gas fired is in response to tear gas fired from the Greek side.
Athens has called the confrontations a threat to national security and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis brought European Union leaders to the border area to press his case for more financial and logistical support to avoid a repeat of 2015, when more than one million refugees poured into the EU from Turkey.
Greece says it has repulsed around 35,000 migrants trying to cross its border in the past week. Turkey has deployed 1,000 special police to the area to halt the pushback of migrants onto its territory.
Ankara accused Greek forces this week of shooting dead four migrants, a charge rejected by Athens, which says Turkish forces are actively helping the migrants to cross the border illegally.
‘THEY WON’T LET US IN’
On the Turkish side of the border on Friday, enterprising villagers were selling fruit, vegetables and bottled water to migrants, though they also expressed sympathy for them.
“I hope they will open this border soon and end this tragedy. We just want to get on with our lives,” said Remiz Celik, 43, who was selling apples and potatoes to migrants.
The fields were strewn with plastic bags and other detritus left by the migrants, many of whom have been living in Istanbul and other Turkish towns and cities for some time.
Some migrants said they might head back to Istanbul in the coming days because they do not expect the Greeks to yield.
“They are not going to let us in, we know this, because the Greeks know that if they open the gates they will get many more people on this side of the border,” said Fawzi Uzbek, 37, an Afghan national who has lived in Istanbul for about 18 months.
Sitting in a makeshift tent he had constructed near the border for himself, his wife and four children, Uzbek said he wanted to find work in Germany and had begun learning German, but said he would probably return to Istanbul soon.
About a quarter of the migrants at the border are Syrian and most of the rest are Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranians and Africans, according to Turkish estimates.
European Union foreign ministers were due to discuss the crisis at Greece’s border at a gathering in Croatia on Friday.
“We have clear evidence that this population movement has been created and orchestrated by Turkey. I want to be clear the European Union will not let this human pain be exploited,” Greek Foreign Minister Nicos Dendias said as he headed to the meeting.
Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million refugees from the Syrian civil war, says it cannot take in any more people and says the EU has failed to provide sufficient financial and other support.
“Turkey has a big burden … and we have to understand that. But at the same time, we cannot accept that migrants are being used as a source of pressure,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said ahead of Friday’s talks in Zagreb.
Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and Joseph Nasr; Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou and George Georgiopoulos in Athens; Editing by Gareth Jones
Image: Greek riot police officers walk amid clouds of tear gas near Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing, in Kastanies, Greece March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Florion Goga