Kathimerini Greece Newsroom
Greek riot police and troops used water cannon and tear gas on Wednesday against hundreds of migrants as they made another attempt to cross the border from Turkey into Greece.
Plumes of black smoke drifted above the Kastanies border crossing, and a fire engine raced by to put out smoldering blazes. Greek soldiers also fired warning shots into the air. A Greek army vehicle equipped with loudspeakers informed the migrants in Arabic and other languages that the border is shut.
A Reuters witness saw tear gas cannisters being thrown from the Turkish side of the border toward Greek police over a high razor wire. It was not clear who was hurling the cannisters.
Video footage showed some migrants carrying an injured man away from the border. It was unclear how he had been hurt.
Footage later released by Greek authorities appeared to show tear gas being fired from the Turkish side of the border in the Evros region.
Greek authorities said that a Turkish riot police unit stationed about 40 meters from the frontier were using grenade launchers to fire the tear gas canisters into the buffer zone on the Greece-Turkey border.
More than 10,000 migrants have been trying to breach the Turkish-Greek border since Thursday
Wednesday’s clashes came a day after European Union officials promised more cash for Greece during a visit to the country’s land border with Turkey. The officials also called upon Turkey to abide by a 2016 deal which requires it to keep the migrants on its territory in return for EU cash.
Greece suspends asylum applications
On Tuesday, the Greek government issued a legislative act that stipulates the suspension for one month of asylum applications from people that enter Greece illegally.
Accordingly, these people will not be registered and will be returned immediately to their country of origin. The act will have a retroactive effect and will include all those that entered the country since March 1.
“The suspension of the asylum process sends a very important message that our country does not consider those who enter illegally as refugees,” said Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis, who added these people are being exploited by Turkey in order to dispute Greece’s sovereign rights.
More than 10,000 migrants have been trying to breach the border since Turkey said last Thursday it would no longer abide by a 2016 deal with the European Union to halt illegal migration flows to Europe in return for billions of euros in aid.
Greece and the EU accuse Turkey of goading on the migrants in an effort to “blackmail” 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 the EU is not providing anything like enough help to deal with the scale of the migrant crisis.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also accused Greek forces of killing two migrants, a claim Athens strongly denies.
“I call on European Union countries, namely Greece, to act in line with the Human Rights Declaration and respect the migrants arriving on their land,” Erdogan told lawmakers of his ruling AK Party on Wednesday.
Erdogan reportedly showed a photo allegedly depicting Greek refugees that fled the Nazi occupation to Syria.
“One of the Greek boys or girls in this photo is maybe the grandfather or grandmother of Mitsotakis,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.
“Do not forget that one day [Greeks] may find themselves in a situation where they will have to seek compassion,” the Turkish strongman said according to the reports.
Greek navy ship docks at Lesvos to return 508 migrants
Erdogan repeated his allegation that Greek coastguard vessels were trying to sink boats carrying migrants across the Aegean from the Turkish coast to Lesvos and other Greek islands, something Athens also denies.
A number of dinghies have arrived on the Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in the past week, though choppy seas discouraged sailings for a second consecutive day on Wednesday.
A navy ship docked at Lesvos port will take in 508 migrants who have arrived since March 2 once they have been identified, a coastguard official said. He did not say where the ship would take them.
Hussein, in a group of about 100 migrants which arrived in Lesvos four days ago and has been camping on the shore, said he left Afghanistan with his 17-year-old brother a month ago and crossed Iran and Turkey before reaching the island by dinghy.
“Our future is going to be bright because I am an educated person so I don’t need much help. I want to complete my education and then I will need a job,” he told Reuters.