EU border protection agency issues ‘high alert’ as millions of migrants head for Europe
Since Turkey fulfilled its threat to “open the doors” to millions of middle eastern migrants late last week, an estimated 75,000 illegal immigrants have flooded into the European Union via Greece’s border, according to reports.
Violent clashes were witnessed over the weekend at the Greek-Turkish border as thousands of migrants overwhelmed crossing gates in the three days after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the border to the EU “open.”
In a desperate attempt to prevent chaos during, what authorities termed, “illegal” entry into their country, Greek police fired tear gas and erected barbed wire along their frontier.
Like Greece, Bulgaria also deployed its military, which is patrolling the country’s 118-mile line with Ankara to defend the border.
The European Union’s border protection agency, Frontex, has also engaged a “high alert” footing, stationing troops along the EU’s land border with Turkey and in the Greek islands.
The efforts appear futile, however, as floods of migrants waded across the Maritsa river into Greece and arrived by boat on the Greek islands of Samos, Lesbos, and Chios.
It is unclear whether migrants have also entered Bulgaria, according to The Daily Mail.
Bureaucrats in Brussels said tonight they will hold an “emergency meeting” in the coming days as fears played out across the continent that scenes from the 2015 migrant crisis, where thousands of refugees streamed across borders to reach Germany, France, and Britain, could be repeated.
Turkey, which has held back 4million refugees following a £2.3-billion deal with the EU four years ago, opened the floodgates on Friday, a day after 34 Turkish troops were killed in a Syrian regime airstrike in Idlib.
Ankara ramped up tensions with the Assad regime tonight as it bombed airports outside Aleppo, deep inside Syrian-government held territory, and shot down two of President Bashar al-Assad’s fighter jets.
Tensions were also heightened with Moscow, which has backed the regime, as three Russian journalists were detained in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city.
It is thought Erdogan has told migrants the borders are open to force his European NATO allies and the EU to back Turkey’s offensives in Syria and in response to alleged delays in paying the migrant package agreed in 2016.
Turkish minister of the interior Suleyman Soylu tweeted that the number of migrants crossing into the EU had reached 76,358 this morning.
However, Greek authorities disputed the figures and said they had successfully repelled almost 10,000 attempts to enter the country.
Refugees were pictured attempting to swim across the Maritsa river to reach Greece this morning.
Six migrants were also photographed four miles inside the Balkan nation-state after they had been arrested by police.
Reporters from Reuters news agency said they watched at least 30 people swim across the Maritsa river.
A text message sent to all phones on the Greek border warned that the country has increased security to maximum and ordered people not to attempt to enter.
At least 700 people reached the Greek islands on seven boats last night, Reuters reported, as residents were seen stopping migrant boats landing on Lesbos and shouting “go back to Turkey!”
The Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was elected in July, chaired a meeting with his national security council this evening.
Greece has accused Turkey of inflaming the migrant crisis after it told refugees in the country it would open the border to the EU and allegedly encouraged them to leave.
Its deputy defence minister Alkiviadis Stefanis accused Turkey of “not only stopping are they not stopping (the refugees), but they are helping them.”
Bulgarian defence minister Krasimir Karakachanov said there had been no crossings into his country, but that there had been tensions along the border.
Migrants reportedly pelted riot police with stones and tried to cut through barbed wire on the border with Greece last night.
The angry clashes came as thousands camped out at the border crossing waiting for Greece to re-open its border.
The EU’s commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has said the bloc was watching the crisis unfold “with concern.”
“Our top priority at this stage is to ensure that Greece and Bulgaria have our full support,” she said on Twitter.
“We stand ready to provide additional support including through Frontex on the land border.”
Announcing his decision to open Turkey’s borders on Saturday, Erdogan said: “What did we do yesterday? We opened the doors.
“We will not close those doors… Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises.”
Turkey has reacted with ferocious force since the Syrian regime killed dozens of its soldiers in an airstrike in Idlib on Thursday.
At least 100 tanks, eight helicopters, 56 armored vehicles, and six air defence systems have been destroyed so far in Ankara’s fourth military operation in Syria dubbed “Spring Shield,” said defence minister Hulusi Akar.
More than 1,000 Syrian troops have also been neutralized, Turkey said, a term which means they have either been killed or detained.
It was also claimed that bombers had rendered Nayrab military airport unusable this afternoon, and attacked the Kuweires airport, east of Nayrab.
In response, the Assad regime said it had downed three Turkish drones that had been targeting its positions.
It also issued a warning threatening to shoot down any aircraft in Syria’s northwestern airspace.
The escalating tensions in the region and emerging second migrant crisis forced the EU’s hand last night as its representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, said he had called an emergency meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers.
He said that fighting around the last rebel enclave in Syria represented a “serious threat to international peace and security” and that the EU had to “redouble efforts to address this terrible human crisis with all the means at its disposal.”
The meeting was also called at the request of the Greek government.