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Migrants trying to enter Europe are about to be trapped between feuding security forces, after Turkey said Thursday it would send 1,000 police to the border to stop Greece from pushing them back.
Since Turkey opened its border last week, Greek forces have forced back nearly 35,000 migrants who have tried to enter Greece illegally, sparking a fresh migration crisis for the European Union.
Now Turkey says it is deploying its own reinforcements to stop Greek forces from pushing the migrants back over the border, in a move that’s likely to inflame an already chaotic and violent situation.
“We are deploying 1,000 special force police to the border system... to prevent the push-back,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters in the northwestern border province of Edirne.
Turkey’s announcement last Thursday that it would no longer block illegal migrants from leaving its territory for Europe has sent tens of thousands of would-be migrants to the country’s border with Greece. Greece has responded by sending military deployments to the border, and repulsing those attempting to cross with tear gas and water cannons.
The standoff has sparked a bitter war of words between Europe and Turkey. Amid reports that Turkey has bussed migrants to the border and told them to cross, European countries have accused Greece of orchestrating the migration wave to pressure Europe to do more to support it in its military operation in northwest Syria.
On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Turkey’s approach amounted to “blackmail.”
“This migratory pressure is organized,” he said in Paris. “It is organized by President Erdogan's regime as a form of blackmail against the European Union.”
Turkey says it can’t handle any more refugees fleeing the Syrian war, having already taken in 3.7 million, and has criticized Greece for its violent response to migrants trying to cross the border, which it claims has left 164 people injured. Soylu said late Wednesday he was preparing to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights over Greece’s treatment of migrants, including the case of a man it says was fatally wounded when Greek security forces opened fire at the border on Wednesday.
Greece has flatly denied the reports of a death, rejecting Turkey’s claim as “fake news.”
Turkey’s decision to open the border, which undermined assurances given in a 2016 deal with the European Union, came shortly after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in Syrian airstrikes in Idlib province last Thursday, where Turkish forces are supporting Syrian rebels in the face of a Russian-backed regime onslaught.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow Thursday to discuss a potential ceasefire in the conflict, which has displaced nearly a million people since December.
Cover: Turkish police stand by migrants camping in Edirne near the Turkish-Greek border on Thursday, March 5, 2020. Turkey has vowed to seek justice for a migrant it says was killed on the border with Greece after Greek authorities fired tear gas and stun grenades to push back dozens of people attempting to cross over. Greece had denied that anyone was killed in the clashes. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)