ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey has vowed to seek justice for a migrant it says was killed on the border with Greece after Greek authorities fired tear gas and stun grenades to push back dozens of people attempting to cross over. Greece had denied that anyone was killed in the clashes.
Thousands of migrants have arrived at the Pazarkule border gate — near the Greek border village of Kastanies — in the past week after Turkey declared its previously guarded gateways to Europe open, triggering clashes with Greek border guards.
On Wednesday, one person was killed and five others were wounded after Greek police and border guards opened fired on the migrants making a push to cross the border, Turkish authorities said. The Greek government, however, rejected the assertion as “fake news.”
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Turkey was determined to carry the migrant’s death to the European Court of Human Rights.
“Our Foreign Ministry will make it an international issue,” he told Turkish broadcaster CNN-Turk in an interview a day before he traveled to the border area.
The minister asserted that more than 130,000 migrants had crossed into Greece since Feb. 27, when Turkey made good on a threat to open its borders and allow migrants and refugees to head for Europe. Around 20-25% of those who reached Greece were Syrian nationals, Soylu said.
There was no evidence to support the claim that as many had crossed into Greece. Greek authorities said that in the 24 hours between Wednesday morning and Thursday morning, they blocked 6,955 attempts to cross the Greek-Turkish land border, and arrested 24 people, mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Overall from Saturday morning until Thursday morning, Greek authorities said there had been 34,778 attempts to cross the border, and 244 people had been arrested after crossing.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to open its gateways to Europe has raised concerns within the European Union, which is holding a foreign ministers’ meeting in Zagreb, Croatia.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement before heading to the meeting that it was important that Greece not be left alone and that a “united European answer” be found for the situation on the Turkish-Greek border.
“As always, the weakest always pay the highest price for the current condition. Therefore, we must use our possibilities to quickly help especially unprotected children,” Maas said.
He added: “For us it’s clear: the EU must continue to financially and increasingly support the efforts of Turkey when it comes to the admission of refugees and migrants.”
Greece has also come under migration pressure from the sea, with Greek islands, which are a short distance from Turkey, seeing even more new arrivals. A child died when the dinghy he was in capsized off the coast of the Greek island of Lesbos earlier this week.
Soylu, the interior minister, said he had received instructions from Erdogan for Turkish authorities to continue to prevent migrants from crossing by sea to avert drownings.
Turkey’s announcement that its border to Europe was open came amid a Russia-backed Syrian government offensive into Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, where Turkish troops are fighting.
The offensive has killed dozens of Turkish troops and sent nearly a million Syrian civilians toward Turkey’s sealed border.
Greece’s government has called the situation a direct threat to Greece’s national security and has imposed emergency measures to carry out swift deportations and freeze asylum applications for one month.
Reporting by Suzan Fraser; Associated Press writers Elena Becatoros in Athens, and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, contributed to this report.
Image: Greek riot police guard as migrants stand on a fence as they try to enter Greece from Turkey at the Greek-Turkish border in Kastanies on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)