THOUSANDS of migrants gathered at Turkey’s border with Greece have been subjected to tear gas and stun grenades as Greek authorities attempt to push them back.
At least 13,000 people, including children, massed at the border after the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared the border open last week, saying that Turkey could no longer cope with the number of refugees fleeing from Syria.
Hundreds of refugees have taken to rubber dinghies to try to cross to the Greek islands. One child died this week when the dinghy he was in capsized off the coast of the island of Lesbos. Footage also emerged of Greek coastguards firing gunshots into the sea close to dinghies full of migrants, in an attempt to force them to turn back.
Greek authorities said on Wednesday that, between Saturday morning and Wednesday morning, they had blocked 27,832 attempts to cross the border, and had arrested a total of 220 people who managed to cross.
EU leaders have rushed to try to support Greece, describing it as Europe’s “shield” for deterring migrants, and giving it money and resources to upgrade infrastructure at the border. But the UN Refugee Agency has criticised the Greek decision to suspend all asylum applications for one month, saying that there was no legal basis for the decision.
Turkey’s announcement that it would not stop those wishing to cross into Europe came amid a Russia-backed Syrian government offensive into Syria’s north-western Idlib province, where Turkish troops are fighting.
The offensive has killed dozens of Turkish troops, and sent nearly one million Syrian civilians toward Turkey’s sealed border.
Turkey has accused the EU of failing to keep promises made in 2016, when Turkey agreed to host Syrian refugees in return for six billion euros. But the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said that Turkey was blackmailing the EU.
He said in Vienna: “The people are being used by President Erdogan as a political football, as weapons and as instruments of pressure on the European Union.”
Charities working with refugees have urged the EU to help to negotiate a solution urgently. Josie Naughton, of the charity Help Refugees, said: “Refugees deserve better than this. Having escaped war, they are now being met with violence as they try to seek asylum. Not only must their immediate human rights be respected and humanitarian needs provided for, but we urgently call upon the EU, Greece, and Turkey to engage in meaningful negotiations to find a solution to the current crisis.”
Pope Francis prayed for refugees on Sunday. He said: “I am saddened by the news of so many displaced people, so many men, women, and children who are discarded by war. . . My thoughts go to the hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking refuge and help throughout the world… Let us pray for them.”