Clashes erupt on Greece-Turkey border as migrants seek entry
Greek authorities fired tear gas and stun grenades Wednesday morning to repulse a push by migrants to cross its land border from Turkey, as pressure continued along its frontier after Turkey said its own border with Europe was open to whomever wanted to cross.
Turkish authorities said one person was killed and five were wounded by fire coming from the Greek side — an assertion the Greek government strongly rejected, saying it was “fake news.”
The clashes were near the border village of Kastanies, along a border fence that covers much of the land border not demarcated by the Evros river running along the frontier.
Turkey made good on a threat to open its borders and send migrants into Europe last week. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s action triggered days of violent clashes and scenes of chaos at the land border, where thousands of migrants and refugees have gathered.
The governor’s office for the Turkish border province of Edirne said one migrant was killed and five others wounded after Greek police and border units fired tear gas, blank bullets and live rounds at a group of migrants gathered at an area between the Turkish and Greek gates of Pazarkule and Kastanies.
A statement from Gov. Ekrem Canalp’s office said three migrants were injured in the foot, one in the groin and one in the head. A sixth who was hit in the chest died in the hospital, it said, adding that the incident occurred as the Turkish parliamentary committee on human rights was visiting the area.
Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas categorically denied that any migrants had been wounded or killed by Greek authorities.
“The Turkish side creates and disperses fake news targeted against Greece. Today they created yet another such falsehood,” he said, adding that he categorically denied anyone was injured or killed. “There is no such incident with fire from the Greek authorities,” he said.
Greek authorities said Turkish police were firing tear gas at Greek authorities, and supplied video that they said backed their assertion.
During the clashes earlier Wednesday, reporters on the Greek side of the border heard what sounded like gunfire, though it was unclear whether this was live ammunition. A group of people could be seen carrying something that could have been a person between them, and running to the Turkish border post. Shortly afterward, an ambulance was heard leaving.
Reporters on the Turkish side of the border saw at least four ambulances leave the area.
The head of emergency services at Edirne’s Trakya University Hospital, Burak Sayhan, told journalists that six people had been admitted to the emergency department Wednesday, including one who was dead on arrival. He said one person had been shot in the head, two had gunshot wounds to their lower and upper extremities and one had a broken nose.
Greece’s sea border with Turkey has also come under pressure. In the last few days, hundreds of people have headed to Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in dinghies. One child died when the rubber dinghy he was in capsized off the coast of the Greek island of Lesbos earlier this week.
Gale-force winds and rough seas hampered sea crossings Wednesday.
Greece sent a navy ship to Lesbos to house more than 400 of the new arrivals. Tension has mounted with some local residents on the island, where the main migrant camp is massively overcrowded.
The government has called the situation a direct threat to Greece’s national security and has imposed emergency measures to carry out swift deportations and freeze asylum applications for one month. Migrants have been reporting being summarily pushed back across the border into Turkey.
The mass movement to Greece’s borders of migrants and refugees, the majority of whom appeared to be from Afghanistan, has appeared organized. Buses, minibuses, cars and taxis were provided in Istanbul to ferry people to the border, while some of those who managed to cross have said they were told by Turkish authorities to go to Greece.
Turkey’s announcement that it wouldn’t stop those wishing to cross into Europe came amid a Russia-backed Syrian government offensive into Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, where Turkish troops are fighting.
The offensive has killed dozens of Turkish troops and sent nearly a million Syrian civilians toward Turkey’s sealed border. However, Oleg Zhuravlev, head of the Russian military’s coordination center in Syria, said Tuesday the claims about a humanitarian crisis in Idlib were false.
European Union interior ministers held emergency talks to show solidarity with Greece and to drum up more equipment to bolster the 27-country bloc’s outside border with Turkey. Other officials accused Turkey of “blackmail” for waving migrants through.
The European Commission has praised Greece as “the shield” on Europe’s external borders. Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said “there are 20,000 people that have been instrumentalized by buses to be sent, creating an unprecedented situation.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking Wednesday at the French Senate, said the “migratory pressure is at Europe’s door. ... That migratory pressure is being organized by President Erdogan’s regime to blackmail the European Union. The EU won’t give in to blackmail.”
Turkey, for its part, accused Greece of mistreating refugees.
“Greece treats refugees horribly and then turns around to blame Turkey,” Fahrettin Altun, the communications director of Turkey’s presidency, tweeted Tuesday night. “This is the kind of double standards and hypocrisy we have gotten used to over the years. The country that just suspended temporary protection and tear gassed migrations has no moral authority to speak of!”
In an address to legislators from his ruling party on Wednesday, Erdogan called on Greece and other European nations to respect migrants’ rights. He screened a photograph depicting Greeks who reportedly found refuge in Syria in 1942, saying: “Greeks who try all kinds of methods to keep refugees away from their countries — from drowning them at sea to shooting at them with bullets — should not forget that they may need to be shown the same mercy someday.”
He also accused EU countries of hypocritical behavior, saying they had rushed to Greece’s help “with money, boats and soldiers” to prevent a new influx of migrants, but ignored Turkey’s plight concerning 3.7 million Syrian refugees on its territory.
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia pledged to help Greece deal with pressure along its border. The four countries have been known for their tough stance against migrants and rejected an EU plan to redistribute refugees in member states.
European Council head Charles Michel was meeting with Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, while EU Vice President Josep Borrell and Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic were holding talks with Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Erdogan, Borell said that the EU delegation asked Turkey “not to encourage the further movement of refugees and migrants toward the EU borders.”
“We had the opportunity to express our understanding of the difficult situation Turkey is currently facing, but also stressed that the current developments at the European borders is not leading to any solution,” he said.
Borell said Turkish officials’ response was that Turkey was not encouraging people to move, but that “they cannot prevent people from doing so.”
Greek authorities said there were about 15,000 people along the Greek-Turkish land border on Wednesday, and they had blocked 27,832 attempts to cross the border between Saturday morning and Wednesday morning. A total of 220 people who managed to cross were arrested.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get all the day's most vital news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.