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article imageGreece blocks migrants on border with Turkey

By Vassilis KYRIAKOULIS (AFP)     Feb 28, 2020 in World

Greece blocked hundreds of migrants trying to enter the country on Friday, hours after Turkey said it would no longer prevent them from going to Europe.

At a border crossing in Kastanies in Greece's northeastern Evros region, an AFP reporter saw army trucks loaded with barbed wire speed past and armed soldiers standing ready, as Athens said it was tightening controls "to the maximum level possible".

Earlier, around 300 asylum-seekers had arrived in the area, seemingly from Edirne in Turkey, army and police sources told AFP.

Athens said the head of Greece's general staff and minister police had been dispatched to the area.

As well as trying to get to Europe via land, refugees were also attempting to reach Greece by sea.

According to the private Turkish news agency DHA, asylum-seekers were assembling on Turkey's western coast of Ayvacik to try to go to the Greek island of Lesbos by boat.

According to AFP reporters on Lesbos, two boats arrived with around 70 people on board, with many of them scrambling ashore carrying children on their backs.

- Bulgaria boosts controls -

Other countries neighbouring Turkey also said they were stepping up border controls.

Many of the refugees arriving on Lesbos by boat were children
Many of the refugees arriving on Lesbos by boat were children
ARIS MESSINIS, AFP/File

In Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said police had been sent "to our borders (with Turkey) early in the morning. It is worrying that the Turkish border guards have withdrawn."

Earlier, a senior Turkish official had said that Ankara would no longer close its border gates to refugees wanting to go to Europe, shortly after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Idlib, northern Syria.

"After developments in Idlib, (Athens) is in close contact with the EU and NATO," a Greek government source said.

Turkey, which is already home to around 3.6 million Syrian refugees, fears more people arriving in the country where there is growing popular discontent against their presence.

Greece and its EU partners fear another influx of refugees from Syria after more than one million made their way there in 2015 before an EU-Turkey accord was reached on controlling the numbers.

Greece is already struggling to accommodate thousands of asylum-seekers stranded in the country for the past five years, especially on the islands, where migrant camps are stretched far beyond capacity.

More than 38,000 migrants are crowded into camps on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, several times over the official capacity of just 6,200.

Greece is struggling to accommodate thousands of asylum-seekers stranded in the country
Greece is struggling to accommodate thousands of asylum-seekers stranded in the country
ARIS MESSINIS, AFP/File

Only a few hundred migrants have been sent back to Turkey, and just a handful of European states have offered to take in refugees from Greece after EU borders were shut in 2016.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which came to power in July, has failed to persuade Greek island authorities to accept the creation of new camp facilities.

Camps on the Greek mainland are also full, and local authorities there also oppose efforts to relocate additional asylum-seekers.

Earlier this week, the government tried to push forward with its camp plans by sending riot police and construction machinery to Lesbos and Chios.

But after days of violent skirmishes with local protesters that left dozens injured, the police were pulled back on Thursday.

Mitsotakis has announced he will visit Samos, Lesbos and Chios after meeting with local mayors on Thursday in a bid to defuse tension.

str-burs-jph/spm

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