Greece, the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, wants no more asylum-seekers from war-torn Turkey. Hundreds of refugees in Turkey began arriving at the country’s borders with Greece and Bulgaria after officials in the Turkish capital of Ankara recently announced that such passage, allowing entry into Europe, would no longer be blocked.
Turkish officials said they had “opened the gates” for Syrian refugees to travel freely to Europe.
The governments of the two neighboring countries beefed up their border defenses and repeated that no one would be allowed to enter and that the path to Europe was not open. Police in Greece hurled smoke grenades at one border crossing. Bulgaria dispatched an additional 1,000 troops to its boundary with Turkey.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece tweeted a message to the refugees assembled at the Turkish border on March 1, 2020:
“The borders of Greece are the external borders of Europe. We will protect them.”
The Greek leader added this warning:
“Do not attempt to enter Greece illegally, you will be turned back.”
EU-bound migrants were blocked by barbed wire, a swiftly flowing river, and police in riot gear equipped with tear gas.
The European Union (EU) responded by warning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of its expectation that Ankara abides by a €6bn (US$6.68 million) deal to limit migration to its member states.
The conservative Greek government stated it will halt accepting new asylum applications for one month, allowed under an emergency clause in EU treaties. Furthermore, anyone who succeeds in crossing illegally will be deported.
Greek patrols along its sea borders in the Aegean Sea have increased, provided by reinforcement from Frontex, the EU’s border patrol agency. Greek officials informed migrants by text messaging and megaphones:
“You’re not welcome here.”
On February 27, a Syrian air raid in Turkey’s Idlib province left at least 33 Turkish soldiers dead. Conflict continues in the strategically-located northwestern Syrian city of Saraqeb as the Russian met their Syrian allies’ request for assistance with airstrikes.
Most reports attribute the aerial bombardment to the Syrian Air Force but some experts on Syria claim that responsibility falls on the Russian Aerospace Forces, which are providing air support to a Syrian Arab Army campaign to take back Idlib province from fundamentalist rebels.
Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar said on February 28:
“Despite warnings after the first strike, the Syrian regime, unfortunately, continued its attacks, even targeting ambulances.”
The Defense Minister reported “309 regime troops” had died and enumerated the damage:
“Turkish forces destroyed five Syrian regime choppers, 23 tanks, 10 armored vehicles, 23 howitzers, five ammunition trucks, a SA-17, a SA-22 air defense system as well as three ammunition depots.”
The Turkish government has closed its borders with Syria, trapping as many as one million Syrian refugees living in squalid camps inside Idlib province. A total of 3.5 million Syrians reside as refugees in Turkey.
Flooding migrants from the south has been an ongoing challenge for Greece since German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the “y’all come” signal that started the foreign invasion of Europe in mid-2015.
At the peak of the mass migration from northern Africa in 2015, thousands drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, a million people landed in Greece and Italy where many remain in miserable displacement camps. Turkey often threatens to reopen the migrant route from the Middle East, making matters worse for Europe.
On April 3, 2016, Greece made a deal with the European Union (EU) to return migrants to Turkey in an effort to shut down the main route more than a million people used to flee war and poverty in Africa to reach the promised land in Europe. Under that pact, Ankara was forced to take back all migrants and refugees who crossed the Aegean to enter Greece illegally, including Syrians.
In return, the EU accepted thousands of mostly-Muslim Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarded the country, which has a 99% Muslim population, with money, visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.
Four days ago, on February 28, 2020, the British Guardian reported on the panicked situation in Belgium:
“There was alarm in Brussels as footage of hundreds of refugees and migrants heading for the land and sea borders with Greece was aired by the Turkish state news agencies.”
Turkey has reportedly asked the United States government to supply Patriot missile batteries to shoot down Russian warplanes.
On March 1, the United Nations said at least 13,000 people had gathered on the land border between Turkey and Greece. Greek Deputy Defense Minister Alkiviadis Stefanis revealed there were about 9,600 attempts to cross illegally over Greece’s border overnight between Saturday, February 29, to Sunday, March 1.
Greek authorities said they arrested 66 migrants on February 28. Seventeen of them received jail sentences up to 3.5 years for entering the country illegally.