Greece rebuffs 963 migrants in border standoff with Turkey

Monitoring Desk

KASTANIES: Nearly 1,000 migrants tried to cross into Greece from Turkey in the past 24 hours despite tight border security, Greek officials said on Tuesday, suggesting little respite in a nearly two-week diplomatic bust-up between Ankara and the European Union. President TayyipErdogan, whose decision on Feb. 28 to open Turkey’s border to migrants wishing to leave triggered the crisis at the border, repeated on Tuesday his call for EU member state Greece to let the people through.

In a briefing to reporters on the border, Greek officials said 963 people had been prevented from illegally crossing into Greece between 6 a.m. on Monday and 6 a.m. on Tuesday, with 52 of them arrested. The arrested included migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iran, the officials said.

Greek military vehicles and soldiers on foot continued to patrol along the wire and steel fence that separates Greece’s Kastanies crossing from Turkey’s border post at Pazarkule. A Greek military band marched close to the Paz rkule crossing playing the Greek national anthem, a reminder of the nationalist passions the crisis has unleashed on both sides. Greek security forces say they have stopped some 42,000 people from trying to enter Greek territory since the migrants flocked to the border from all over Turkey after Erdogan’s decision to open the border.

That decision appeared designed to put pressure on the EU to offer more financial support to Ankara to handle the 3.6 million migrants it has absorbed from Middle East conflicts and provide the NATO ally with more backing for its role in Syria. In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel told Erdogan on Monday he needed to pull the migrants back from the border before the EU would consider further support for Turkey.

Meanwhile, Berlin will take in 80 to 100 children from Greek refugee camps, an official in the German capital said on Tuesday, as concern mounts about migrants amassing on the Turkish-Greek border. European politicians are struggling to agree what to do about the tens of thousands of migrants who have been trying to enter Greece, a member of the European Union, since Ankara said last month it would no longer keep them on Turkish soil.

Germany’s coalition parties said on Monday they were ready to take in several hundred children from Greek refugee camps together with other EU countries, with the focus on children who are sick or younger than 14 and unaccompanied. Asked when children might arrive in Berlin, the capital’s senator for interior affairs, Andreas Geisel told broadcaster RTL: “It now depends on how quickly the German government implements this decision. I think it’s more like today than tomorrow.”

Greece has a large number of people waiting in refugee camps and hoping enter the EU, many of them fleeing war, persecution and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. It is refusing to open its borders to the refugees now trying to enter from Turkey, which hosts about 3.6 million refugees from Syria. Greece and the EU accuse Turkey of deliberately goading the migrants to cross the border as a way of pressuring Brussels into offering more money to host the refugees or supporting Ankara’s geopolitical aims in the Syrian conflict.

More than 3,000 children in Greece need to be found homes, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said. While welcoming a move by Finland to take in 150 unaccompanied children, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Director, Special Coordinator, Refugee and Migrant response in Europe, said far more was needed. “We need Europe to stand alongside both Greece and Turkey and the other frontline Mediterranean states to be able to help shelter and house many of the unaccompanied children,” she told Reuters on Monday after a visit to the Turkey-Greece border.

France, Portugal, Finland and Luxembourg have also offered to take in some children. Khan described large numbers of women and children near the border who dream of crossing into Europe, but camp in cold and wet open fields in tents or under plastic sheeting. The EU wants to avoid a repeat of 2015 when more than a million people, mostly from the Middle East, reached its shores via Turkey and Greece. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door migrant policy, under which Germany took in nearly 1 million people in 2015 alone, led to a surge in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). (Reuters)