March 4, 2020 / 9:28 AM / in a month

Greek, Turkish police fire tear gas as migrant border crisis deepens

KASTANIES, Greece/EDIRNE, Turkey (Reuters) - Greek and Turkish riot police deployed on their shared border fired tear gas on Wednesday as hundreds of migrants tried again to cross into Greece, amid an escalating war of words between Athens and Ankara about what was happening.

Soldiers holding guns walk near the Turkey's Pazarkule border crossing, in Kastanies, Greece March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Florion Goga

Turkey accused Greek forces of shooting dead one migrant and wounding five others, a charge strongly denied by Greece, which said Turkish police were using tear gas to help the migrants illegally cross onto its territory.

More than 10,000 migrants have been trying to breach the border since Turkey said last Thursday it would no longer abide by a 2016 deal with the European Union to halt illegal migration flows to Europe in return for billions of euros in aid.

Plumes of smoke wafted above the Kastanies border crossing as Greek soldiers fired warning shots in the air.

A Greek army truck with loud speakers told the migrants - mostly from Syria, other Middle Eastern nations and Afghanistan - in Arabic and other languages that the border was closed.

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 or supporting Ankara’s geopolitical aims in the Syrian conflict.

Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and faces another influx from an upsurge in fighting in northwest Syria, says it cannot take in any more and complains that EU aid falls well short of what is needed for the refugees.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, speaking in Ankara after talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, announced additional humanitarian aid worth 60 million euros for the most vulnerable people in northwest Syria.

Borrell also described the current situation on the Turkey-Greece border as “unacceptable” and urged Ankara not to encourage more migrants to enter the EU illegally.

Senior EU officials visited Kastanies on Tuesday and announced 700 million euros of new aid to Athens to help tackle the migrant crisis.

‘FAKE NEWS’

Erdogan, long at odds with the EU over a range of issues including Cyprus and Turkey’s human rights record, told his ruling AK Party that Greece must respect migrants’ human rights.

He repeated his claim that Greek forces were firing at defenceless migrants trying to enter Greece.

Asked about the Turkish assertion that a migrant had been killed by Greek forces, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said: “Turkey is disseminating fake news... I dismiss this categorically.”

A Turkish doctor at Edirne hospital near the border, Mustafa Burak Sayhan, said the emergency ward had received five patients on Wednesday with various firearm wounds as well as the body of one man shot dead.

Three of the patients who spoke to Reuters said Greek police had opened fire at them at the border.

“We threw stones at them as they didn’t open the border. Then they fired tear gas. Because the tear gas was not effective, they got out rifles and shot us with the rifles,” said Adel Jaberi, a migrant from Iran.

A Greek security official said the Turkish police were firing tear gas in an effort to push back Greek forces and help the migrants to pass. A Turkish security official said they were trying to protect the migrants from Greek fire.

EU leaders fear a repeat of the 2015-16 migrant crisis, when more than a million migrants trekked to western Europe via Turkey and the Balkans, straining European security and welfare services and boosting support for far-right parties.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known for his tough anti-immigrant stance, said 130,000 migrants had crossed the Greek border from Turkey and that they must be stopped as far south as possible. It was unclear how he arrived at that figure, which is much higher than any previously mentioned.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of Bulgaria, which also shares a land border with Turkey, called after talks with EU officials in Sofia on Wednesday for renewed dialogue with Ankara on how to handle the migrants and shore up regional stability.

LESBOS

An unknown number of migrants have also arrived on Lesbos and other Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in the past week, though choppy seas discouraged sailings for a second consecutive day on Wednesday.

A navy ship docked at Lesbos port will take in 508 migrants who have arrived since March 2, a Greek coastguard official said. He did not say where the ship would take them.

Slideshow (4 Images)

Hussein, in a group of about 100 migrants which arrived in Lesbos four days ago and has been camping on the shore, said he left Afghanistan with his 17-year-old brother a month ago and crossed Iran and Turkey before reaching the island by dinghy.

“Our future is going to be bright because I am an educated person so I don’t need much help. I want to complete my education and then I will need a job,” he told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou in Lesbos, Michele Kambas, Foo Yun Chee and George Georgiopoulos in Athens, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul and Marton Dunai in Budapest; writing by Gareth Jones; editing by Mike Collett-White

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