Greece will transfer migrants who arrived on its territory illegally after March 1 to the northern city of Serres and plans to deport back to their own countries, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said late on Wednesday.
Thousands of migrants have made for Greece since Ankara said on Feb. 28 that it would let migrants cross its borders into Europe, despite a commitment to hold them in its territory under a 2016 deal with the European Union.
Hundreds have made it into Greece, many by sea to Lesbos and other Greek islands. Ankara and Athens are accusing each other of using excessive force at its shared borders, where migrants have clashed with security forces in recent days.
“Our aim is to return them to their countries,” Mitarakis told the state-run Athens News Agency.
He also said migrants who entered the country prior to Jan. 1, 2019 and living on the islands would be transferred to the mainland in the coming days.
Greece announced on March 1 that it would not accept any new asylum applications for a month following the build-up of migrants at the border. This has triggered criticism from human rights agencies.
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.
Turkey’s change in policy came after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed by Russian-backed Syrian government forces in an air strike in Syria.
“The situation is calm today. Yesterday we stopped a group of 150 migrants. We will be here as long as is needed,” a police official told Reuters.
No dinghies were sighted in the choppy seas off the Greek island of Lesvos on Thursday following several days of arrivals of migrants. Lesvos already hosts more than 20,000 asylum seekers, many of them living in filthy conditions in overcrowded camps.
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.