Political developments in Turkey, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s large-scale crackdown against opponents in the wake of the 2016 failed coup, and the humanitarian impact of war in Syria, are intensifying migration pressure on Greece, with authorities reporting a spike in arrivals on the Aegean islands but also across Greece’s northwestern border with Turkey.
Over the previous week, a record 1,500 migrants and asylum-seekers crossed the Evros River border, most of them Kurds from Syria and Iraq, as well as self-professed critics of the Erdogan regime. Most turn themselves into Greek authorities, waiting to be formally identified and transferred to reception centers.
Greek officials are concerned that arrivals via Evros will rise as dry weather has resulted in lower water levels in the river.
Another key factor, military and police sources have told Kathimerini, is that Turkish authorities appear less willing than before to stem inflows. They say that the ease with which traffickers and migrants are able to reach the Turkish side of the border – despite Erdogan’s decision to reinforce Turkey’s land border with thousands of pro-government military border guards – suggests that the authorities have either been ordered to turn a blind eye to widespread trespassing or are susceptible to bribes. Additionally, analysts say that the fact that the vast majority of migrants are Kurds from war-torn Afrin in Syria and from Iraq, whose presence in Turkey would be a headache for Erdogan, amplifies skepticism over the true motives of Turkish authorities.
“The Turks are doing in Evros what we did in Idomeni in the beginning [of the crisis],” a source said in reference to the now-defunct border camp on Greece’s frontier with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. “We simply facilitated the refugee flows so that they could move on to Europe through Skopje.”
Meanwhile, sources say that the channels of communication between Greek and Turkish border guards, which in the past facilitated the arrest of migrants and smugglers before the attempted crossing, have been clogged amid deteriorating bilateral ties. The arrest of two Greek soldiers in early March after they accidentally crossed into Turkish territory has made Greek patrols more restrained in their operations.
Greece plans to reinforce its border force with an additional 150 guards as of May 1.