Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has accused Turkey of ‘blackmail’ after the country opened its borders and allowed thousands of migrants to attempt the crossing into Greece.
Kurz said that Ankara had launched an ‘attack’ on the EU using migrants as leverage and said the bloc ‘must not be susceptible to blackmail’.
Greek border guards said some 24,000 people were stopped trying to cross the border from Turkey between Saturday night and Monday, with tear gas fired to keep the crowds back.
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz has accused Turkey of trying to ‘blackmail’ the EU using thousands of migrants as leverage after the country opened its border with Greece
Thousands of migrants from the Middle East have headed to Turkey’s border with Greece since last week when guards threw it open and said they would no longer try to stop crossings
Since 2016 Turkey has agreed to hold back some 4million migrants who have fled fighting in the Middle East to its territory, but said last week that it will no longer abide by the deal
Turkey wants European powers to intervene in Syria to try and stop a government assault on the province of Idlib because it fears the attack will spark a fresh wave of refugees across its eastern border
Turkey says more than 100,000 migrants have crossed its border in an attempt to get to Europe, but Greece put the number of attempted crossings much lower at 24,000
Many of the migrants are now camped out along the banks of the Maritsa river which runs the length of the Greek-Turkish land border and are attempting increasingly risky crossings
After being blocked from crossing at official border checkpoints by Greek guards armed with teargas, many migrants are now attempting to get across the border at other points by fording a river that runs along it
Kurz (pictured last week in London) urged EU leaders to secure the border and not risk a repeat of the 2015 crisis when more than a million migrants arrived on the continent
Footage taken by Turkish media also revealed what appeared to be Greek coast guards firing warning shots at and attempting to capsize a migrant boat as it headed for the island of Lesbos.
Turkey has given a green light to refugees and migrants on its territory, many of them displaced Syrians, to leave for the European Union, in defiance of a 2016 deal to keep them in.
Kurz accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of luring people with ‘false promises’ and transporting them to the Greek border – from where they are seeking to enter Europe – using them as a ‘weapon’ to pressure the EU.
Kurz said it was a ‘test’ for the EU to see whether it can protect its outer borders, saying Austria stood ready to support Greece and any other countries which may face an ‘onslaught’.
A migrant man holding a child walks towards the Turkish-Greek border crossings from the city center of Edirne
‘I can guarantee you one thing: if the outer borders of the EU don’t work, then Europe without (inner) borders is history,’ he said.
‘We must together make sure that year 2015 doesn’t repeat itself,’ he added, referring to a surge in people entering the EU to seek asylum five years ago.
Thousands of migrants searched for ways to cross Greece’s land border on Tuesday, days after Turkey made good on a longtime threat to open its borders for those seeking to cross illegally into Europe.
Many of those hoping to enter Greece were trying their luck by wading or rowing across the Evros River that runs along most of the length of the Turkish frontier.
Greek authorities said the main pressure on the border Tuesday had moved from the official crossing to points farther south along the river. Authorities said they thwarted an attempt by about 1,000 people overnight to make their way across the Evros wetland area, at the southern end of the border.
Top EU officials were accompanying Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Tuesday on a tour of the area around the land border to assess the situation that Greece has described as an asymmetric threat against its national security.
Mr Mitsotakis had earlier called for ‘strong’ support from the EU in tackling the problem, ahead of a meeting with European leaders.
The EU has largely been on the sidelines of the issue but on Monday von der Leyen said: ‘The challenge that Greece is facing right now is a European challenge.’
Some 24,203 people were stopped from crossing the border from Turkey between Saturday and Monday night, according to figures from the Greek government, which has sent troops and police to reinforce its border areas.
Security forces have fired tear gas to attempt to repel the migrants in recent days.
Turkey announced Thursday it was easing restrictions on those wishing to cross into Europe, leading a wave of thousands of people to mass along its western frontier.
The movement appeared well organized, with buses, minibuses and cars provided in Istanbul to ferry people to the border, a roughly three to four hour drive away.
Having been turned away from official border crossing points, migrants have now spread out along the Evros river which runs the length of the border and are trying to cross. Greek border guards say they turned back 1,000 people who tried to cross the Evros wetlands overnight
Greek policemen check migrants at a border police station in the village of Neo Cheimonio after they crossed from Turkey
The Greek Army detains migrants in the village of Mandra, along the banks of the Evros river, after they crossed from Turkey
Migrants sit by the side of the road after being arrested by Greek police following a crossing from Turkey
Greek soldiers patrol the border near the Evros river, near Edirne, in northwestern Turkey, to take a boat to attempt to enter Greece by crossing the river
A migrant looks towards to Greek guard tower, near the Evros river, near Edirne, in northwestern Turkey, as he waits take a boat to attempt to enter Greece
Migrants carrying their belongings pass next to Turkish policemen at a border crossing point with Greece as they are waved through after Turkey said it would no longer block them
Turkish gendarme officers wearing protective masks stand near the Turkey’s Pazarkule boder with Greece as thousands of migrants cross in an attempt to get to Europe
The vast majority appeared to be Afghans, along with people from a wide variety of countries, including Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh and Syria.
Turkey’s announcement upended its previous policy of containing refugees and other migrants under an agreement with the European Union, in which the EU would provide billions in funding for the care of refugees within Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, has long maintained the EU has not lived up to its side of the deal, and has demanded more support from Europe.
He says his country is facing an imminent and dramatic new influx of refugees from the war in Syria, where growing clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops has raised alarm.
However, Turkey’s border with Syria remains shut and there has been no indication he might open it.
Greek authorities said that in the 24 hours between Monday and Tuesday morning, they had prevented a total of 5,183 people from entering Greece, and arrested 45 people, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco and Bangladesh.
Greece has made clear its borders are shut. It has sent military and police reinforcements to the area, which have used tear gas and water cannon to repel mass attempts by migrants to cross into the country.
Authorities have also set up cordons of police and army checks on and near the border, arresting those who managed to make it through.
On Tuesday morning, two men – one from Mali and one from Afghanistan – were seen being arrested by Greek authorities shortly after crossing the border, and being loaded into a van with about 20 more people, from Somalia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Iraq.
A man from Afghanistan rests as children play around him at a small refugee camp on the Turkish shoreline of the Evros River
Thousands of migrants flocked to Edirne’s Pazarkule border crossing to Greece after Turkish officials announced Friday they would no longer try to stop them leaving
A migrant girl warms herself by the fire near the banks of Evros river, natural border between Turkey and Greece
A migrant woman carries a baby as she walks next to the Tunca river in Edirne, Turkey
Migrants have also been trying to reach Greece by making the short but often perilous sea crossing to islands from the nearby Turkish coast.
A young boy died on Monday after the dinghy he was in capsized off the coast of the island of Lesbos. The other 47 people in the boat were rescued.
On Monday night, Greek authorities said they had stopped more than 24,000 attempted illegal crossings at the land border with Turkey since early Saturday, and arrested 183 people – very few of whom were Syrians.
European countries have largely backed Greece. On Monday, Erdogan said Western leaders were calling him and urging him to reverse the border opening.
‘It’s done, the gates are open now. You will have your share of this burden now,’ he said he told them.
Soon ‘the number of people going to the border will be expressed in millions,’ he said.
Top EU officials, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, were to join Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister who was visiting the border area Tuesday.
During his visit, Mitsotakis was briefed that Turkish authorities were busing migrants to specific areas of the border ‘in order to increase the pressure on the Greek border,’ a government official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
Greek authorities have also said Turkish authorities have fired tear gas at the Greek border and Greek forces guarding it, and have provided video footage of tear gas being fired into Greece.