Athens was faced on Thursday with an apparent attempt by Ankara to stoke tensions at the Greek-Turkish land border after Turkey said it was deploying 1,000 officers of its elite police units to stop the return of migrants into its territory as Turkish officials continued with inflammatory rhetoric against their Greek counterparts.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced the deployment of the officers after touring the border area in a helicopter.
Meanwhile, disconcerted by the sudden easing off in migrant arrivals from Turkey by sea, Greek authorities are bracing for a possible Turkish provocation in the Aegean, raising the state of alert on the islands of Farmakonisi, Agathonisi and Kastellorizo in particular.
Greece’s Hydrographic Service of the Military Navy issued a Navtex forbidding vessels from sailing within the territorial waters of Lesvos, Chios and Samos in order “to tackle illegal migrant flows via the sea.”
This particular Navtex essentially marks the first time an official signal has been given to ban sailing boats carrying undocumented migrants in Greek waters.
In the north meanwhile, plans are afoot to bolster the existing border fence in a bid to cover relatively unprotected areas and emphasize the authorities’ determination to avert unchecked undocumented migration.
The government is planning to create a new closed center in northern Greece where migrants who have entered the country illegally since March 1 are to be held pending deportation.
The developments at Greece’s land and sea borders come amid a fresh spike in aggressive rhetoric from Turkish officials against Greece.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday lashed out at a post on Twitter by his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, who described Turkey’s use of distressed migrants to achieve its political objectives as “unacceptable.” Cavusoglu accused Greece of spreading fake news and said that it should “treat refugees as human beings.”
Earlier in the day, Cavusoglu had accused Greece of breaching its obligations under international and European law.
Visiting Greece on Thursday, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Palmer said the country has the right to defend its borders and expressed sympathy for its position, shouldering a disproportionate burden for the EU in the ongoing migration crisis.