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Greek border crackdown amid concerns over Turkey

Greece is on alert after a senior Turkish official said Turkey will no longer stop Syrian refugees traveling to Europe

Kathimerini Greece Newsroom

Greek government sources on Friday stressed that authorities are boosting security at the country’s border following reports that Turkey will no longer stop Syrian refugees from traveling to Europe.

“Greece has intensified the guarding of its land and sea borders to the greatest possible extent,” a source close to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said following increased turmoil in the Syrian city of Idlib, where nearly a million refugees have been displaced.

“Following the developments in Idlib, Athens is in constant contact with the European Union and NATO,” the source said after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian forces in the northwestern city, prompting Ankara to threaten to respond in kind. 

Videos posted on social media showed hundreds of refugees displaced by air strikes in Idlib walking toward northwestern Turkey.

Turkey’s decision to open its southwestern border and allow Syrians free passage to Europe came after a security meeting chaired by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara late on Thursday following the death of the 33 soldiers. 

In a statement on Friday, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy claimed that “there is no change in our country’s policy toward refugees and asylum seekers,” adding that it is “hosting the most refugees in the world.”

However, Greek diplomatic and defense officials were on alert after a senior Turkish official was cited by Reuters as saying that Turkey will no longer stop Syrian refugees from traveling to Europe by land and sea. His comments came as videos posted on social media showed hundreds of refugees displaced by air strikes in Idlib walking toward northwestern Turkey. 

The head of the Hellenic Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Konstantinos Floros, traveled to the northern region of Evros yesterday to coordinate efforts to tighten the country’s border protection amid reports that hundreds of migrants are expected to gather in Edirne and try to cross the border into Greece. 

Greece is not moving additional armed forces to Evros in response to Turkey’s decision to open the border, sources indicated. However, border patrols will be bolstered, from both land and air. 

The prospect of a rise in migrant arrivals in Greece is a concern as reception centers on the Aegean islands are already overcrowded and tense. Tolerance is wearing thin in local communities too, with vehement opposition to the government’s plans to create new closed centers on the islands. 

Mitsotakis discussed Greece's heightened response to the migration crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel by telephone on Friday. 

EU says it expects Turkey to uphold commitments on migrant flows

Turkey has not officially announced a change to its policy on refugees in its country, the European Commission said on Friday, adding that it expected Ankara to uphold commitments it made on controlling flows of migrants to the European Union.

Turkey has committed to end irregular migration flows from Turkey to the EU and ensure improved reception conditions for refugees in Turkey, in exchange for support from the bloc.

“I would like to stress that there was no official announcement from the Turkish side about any changes in their asylum seeker, refugee or migrant policy,” a spokesman for the EU’s executive told a news briefing.

“So from our point of view the EU-Turkey statement ... still stands and we expect Turkey to uphold its commitments stemming from this statement. The Turkish authorities officially confirmed there is no change in the official policy ... we expect that it will continue to stay so.”

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