As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Monday that soon the number of refugees crossing into Europe “will reach millions” unless the European Union takes responsibility for the crisis, Greece continued efforts to fortify its borders and diplomatic initiatives to tackle what it calls an “asymmetrical threat.”
On the diplomatic front, the government’s initiatives have led to a planned visit on Tuesday to the Greek-Turkish border in Evros by the presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament – Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and David Sassoli – accompanied by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Even though Athens believes the visits send a powerful message, it is expecting practical support from its partners, stressing that Greece’s borders with Turkey are also European.
On Sunday, Greece announced emergency measures to tackle the crisis, including a further tightening of border controls to the maximum level, a temporary one-month suspension of asylum applications and the immediate return of undocumented migrants to their country of origin.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of refugees and migrants at the Greek border is estimated at around 13,000 people and tensions are rising as they try to push through.
Tensions were also running high on the islands following the arrival over the weekend of around 1,000 refugees and migrants, with locals trying to prevent one smuggling boat from docking.
A child died when one vessel capsized.
Meanwhile a military exercise with live ammunition was held in the Evros River border region by Greek army units on Monday, with the aim of sending out a message that Greece will not allow its national borders and security to be violated.
At the same time, EU border protection agency Frontex on Monday accepted Greece’s request for immediate assistance for the surveillance of the Evros border and the Eastern Aegean. Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said the agency was withdrawing border guards participating in other operations so that they can be sent to Greece.
Senior Frontex officials told Kathimerini that border guards will arrive in Greece within the next five days, while technical assistance (boats, airplanes, vehicles, etc.) is expected in the next 10 days.
European officials, meanwhile, condemned Erdogan’s stance, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying that while she understands Turkey is facing a very big challenge in northwestern Syria, it is “wholly unacceptable” that instead of seeking a solution through dialogue with the EU, Erdogan is “taking it out on refugees.” Echoing similar sentiments, von der Leyen expressed sympathy with Turkey over its problems in Syria but noted that allowing refugees to amass at the Greek border “cannot be” the answer or the solution.
US President Donald Trump spoke on the telephone with Mitsotakis and reportedly acknowledged Greece’s right to implements its laws on its border.
According to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, US defense chief Mark Esper said what Turkey does on its Greek border regarding refugees and migrants is “its own decision to make.”