Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to keep borders open for Syrian refugees headed for Europe as the first 18,000 cross the Greek border and migrants clash for the second day with guards.
‘What did we do yesterday (Friday)? We opened the doors,’ Erdogan said in Istanbul in his first comments since 33 Turkish troops were killed in northern Syria on Thursday. ‘We will not close those doors …Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises.’
The Turkish leader also said 18,000 migrants have amassed on the Turkish borders with Europe since Friday, adding that the number could reach as many as 30,000 on Saturday.
Migrants played a cat-and-mouse game with Greek border patrols throughout the night and into Saturday, with some cutting holes in the fence only to be turned back by tear gas and stun grenades. Greek authorities also fired tear gas to repulse attempts by the crowd to push through the border.
A migrants stands during clashes with Greek police, at the Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece’s Kastanies, in Edirne, Turkey today
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (rear C) makes a speech as he holds a meeting with his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s Istanbul deputies at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, Turkey today
Greek police officers are pictured from Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece’s Kastanies during clashes with migrants, in Edirne, Turkey today
Tear gas floats in the air during clashes between migrants and Greek police, at the Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece’s Kastanies, in Edirne, Turkey today
The move by Turkey to open its border, first announced Thursday, was seen in Greece as a deliberate attempt to pressure European countries. It comes as tensions ratcheted up between Turkey and Syria. More than 55 Turkish troops have been killed since Turkey began sending further reinforcements into areas of northwest Syria under the control of rebels, which are backed by Turkey.
‘We will not close the gates to refugees,’ Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul. ‘The European Union has to keep its promises.’
Turkey, which is already home to around 3.6 million Syrian refugees, fears more people arriving in the country where there is growing popular discontent against their presence.
‘We are not in a situation to handle a new wave of refugees’ from Syria, Erdogan said.
If Erdogan really has opened the border, it would be a dramatic departure from Turkey’s current policy. Under a 2016 deal, Turkey agreed to stem the tide of refugees to Europe in return for financial aid. It has since protested that the EU has failed to honor the agreement.
Migrants wait as Greek anti riot police officers patrol on the buffer zone Turkey-Greece border, at Pazarkule, in Edirne district today
Erdogan was speaking for the first time since 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in air strikes in northwest Syria on Thursday, the largest single loss of life for Turkish forces since their country became involved in Syria in 2016.
The Turkish troop deaths led officials to declare Turkey would not impede refugees seeking to enter Europe.
Turkey currently hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, and many fleeing war and poverty in Asia, Africa and the Middle East use it as a staging post and transit point to reach Europe, usually through neighboring Greece.
Migrants run away as Greek anti-riot police officers use tears gas on the buffer zone Turkey-Greece border, at Pazarkule today
A migrant throws back a tear gas canister toward Greek anti-riot police officers on the buffer zone Turkey-Greece border, at Pazarkule, in Edirne district today
On Saturday, small groups managed to get across into Greece clandestinely. The vast majority were from Afghanistan, and most were men, although there were also some families with young children. They took shelter during the night in abandoned buildings or small chapels in the Greek countryside before starting to walk towards northern Greek.
Erdogan has frequently threatened to ‘open the gates’ and allow refugees and migrants to head to Europe unless more international support was provided, particularly at times of tension with European countries.
Thursday’s deaths – the highest number in a single day since Turkey first intervened in Syria in 2016 – were the most serious escalation between Turkish and Russian-backed Syrian forces. The development has raised the prospect of an all-out war with millions of Syrian civilians trapped in the middle.
Syrian government forces have been on a weekslong offensive into Idlib province, the country’s last rebel stronghold, which borders Turkey. Thousands of Turkish soldiers are deployed inside rebel-controlled areas of Idlib province, which is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants.
The Idlib offensive has pushed nearly 950,000 displaced civilians toward the Syrian-Turkish border amid cold winter weather.
A Syrian migrant family, whose boats were flooded, are rescued after being stranded on an islet while trying to reach the Greek side of the Evros River in Edirne, Turkey today. Irregular migrants, including women and children, have been heading towards the border villages of the country’s western provinces of Edirne and Canakkale to reach Greece
‘We learnt the border was open and we headed there. But we saw it was closed, and we found a hole in the fence and went through it,’ said Ali Nikad, a 17-year-old Iranian who made it into Greece overnight with a group of friends.
Nikad said he had spent two months in Turkey but couldn’t make ends meet, and was hoping to find his uncle who was already in Greece.
Many of those who made it across the land border were seen being arrested and driven away in white vans.
A police officer told The Associated Press there was pressure along the 200-kilometer (125-mile) land border from migrants trying to force their way through overnight, and groups were being constantly repulsed. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the record.
Others were making their way to Greek islands in dinghies from the nearby Turkish coast.
Greece and Bulgaria increased security at their borders with Turkey. In Athens, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis convened an emergency meeting of top cabinet, military and coast guard officials Saturday morning on the issue.
Migrants run away as Greek anti riot-police officers use tears gas on the buffer zone Turkey-Greece border, at Pazarkule today
Greek border police throw tear gas canisters and stun grenades to send away irregular migrants trying to enter the Greek side of Turkey’s border with Greece in Edirne, Turkey today
A migrant covers his face as tear gas floats in the air during clashes with Greek police, at the Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece’s Kastanies, in Edirne, Turkey today
In Syria, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said one of its soldiers was killed and two were injured by Syrian government shelling, the latest fatality after the deadly airstrike that killed 33 earlier this week.
The announcement late Friday also said Turkish forces hit Syrian government targets and a number of Syrian troops were ‘neutralized.’
It remained unclear whether Syrian or Russian jets carried out the airstrike, but Russia denied its aircraft were responsible.
Erdogan had given the Syrian government until the end of the month to pull back from areas captured in Idlib, threatening large-scale military action if they didn’t. But any large scale Turkish military action risks more loss of life among Turkish soldiers. He had kept unusually silent since the 33 deaths.
Greek border police throw tear gas canisters and stun grenades to send away irregular migrants trying to Greece through Turkey’s border in Edirne, Turkey today
NATO envoys held emergency talks Friday at the request of Turkey, a NATO member. While urging deescalation in Idlib, NATO offered no further assistance.
Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone Friday and discussed implementing agreements in Idlib, the Kremlin said. Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan’s director of communications, said they had agreed to meet ‘as soon as possible.’
Erdogan also spoke with other world leaders, including President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate cease-fire in Idlib. He warned that ‘without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour, and as always, civilians are paying the gravest price.’
Greek anti-riot police officers stand guard on the buffer zone of the Turkey-Greece border, at Pazarkule, in Edirne district, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he vowed to keep the country’s borders open for people seeking refuge in Europe
Greek border guard use teargas on migrants trying to enter Greece, at Pazarkule border gate, Edirne, Turkey today
Migrants use an inflatable boat as they attempt to enter Greece from Turkey by crossing the Maritsa river near the Pazarkule border gate in Edirne, Turkey today
A migrant throws a stone toward Greek police on the buffer zone of the Turkey-Greece border, at Pazarkule, min Edirne district today. Thousands of migrants stuck on the Turkey-Greece border clashed with Greek police on February 29, 2020, according to a photographer at the scene
A migrant throws back a tear gas canister toward Greek anti-riot police officers on the buffer zone of the Turkey-Greece border, at Pazarkule, in Edirne district today
Thousands of migrants were pictured in clashes on the Turkey-Greece border with Greek police earlier today.
Greek police fired tear gas at migrants who have amassed at a border crossing in the western Turkish province of Edirne, some of whom responded by hurling stones at the officers.
The clashes come as Greece bolsters its border after Ankara said it would no longer prevent refugees from crossing into Europe following the death of 33 Turkish troops in northern Syria
The largest wave of displacement in Syria’s nine-year war has been caused by warring between Turkey and Syria in Idlib city in northwestern Syria. Nearly 950,000 people have fleed to areas near the Turkish border for safety. Ankara sealed its borders in 2015 and agreed to step up efforts to halt the flow of refugees under a 2016 deal with the European Union.
Migrants cover their noses and mouths after police launched tear gas cannisters at them on the Turkey-Greece border today
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy warned that the movement of migrants to the West could continue if the situation in Idlib deteriorated further.
‘Some asylum seekers and migrants in our country, worried about developments, have begun to move towards our western borders,’ he said. ‘If the situation worsens, this risk will continue to increase.’ However, he added that there was ‘no change’ in Turkey’s migration policy.
Saying ‘significant numbers’ of migrants and refugees had gathered on the Turkish side of the border with Greece, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted that no illegal crossings would be tolerated and that Greece was not to blame for the ‘tragic events in Syria.’ He called a meeting of top cabinet and military officials for Saturday.
Greece deployed police and military patrols to the border. Police said an estimated 1,200 people had gathered late Friday and periodically tried to push through. Some managed to cut holes in the fence close to the Kastanies border crossing and attacked police with stones but were driven back with tear gas and stun grenades.
A migrant returns a tear gas cannister after trying to breach past Greek border guards on the Greece-Turkey border today
Greek border police throw tear gas canisters and stun grenades to send away migrants who tried to enter Greece through the Turkish side of the border in Edirne, Turkey today
Irregular migrants, who try to enter Greek side at Turkey’s border with Greece, wait as Greek border police intervene them with tear gas canisters to send away them in Edirne, Turkey today
A police officer told The Associated Press that pressure was mounting along the 200-kilometer (125-mile) land border.
‘Along the entire length of the border, there are much increased attempts to break through,’ said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter with the media. ‘But police and army units are constantly deterring them.’
Off Turkey’s west coast, several rubber dinghies with groups of people aboard headed for the island of Lesbos.
However, migrant crossings from the Turkish coast to Greek islands are a daily occurrence, and Greece’s coast guard said there was no notable increase in arrivals.
Five boats carrying a total of 151 people had arrived – a fairly average daily number – and the coast guard said there were no reports that Turkish officials were allowing migrant boats to sail unchecked.
Both Turkey and Russia spoke by phone Friday to try to defuse tensions that rose significantly in Syria after at least 33 Turkish troops were killed in an airstrike blamed on the Syrian government.
A man covers his face after Greek police shot tear gas at migrants on the Greece-Turkey border earlier today
The attack Thursday marked the deadliest day for the Turkish military since Ankara first entered the Syrian conflict in 2016 and also was the most serious escalation between Turkish and Russian-backed Syrian forces, raising the prospect of an all-out war with millions of Syrian civilians trapped in the middle.
It was not clear whether Syrian or Russia jets carried out the strike, but Russia denied its aircraft were responsible.
Turkey’s U.N. Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that the country ‘lost 34 soldiers’ – higher than the 33 previously reported by Turkish officials – and ‘a significant number’ were wounded.
Migrants huddle together after Greek border police threw tear gas canisters and stun grenades to send away irregular migrants who’d tried to enter Greece through the border with Turkey
A boy stands flanked by barbed wire on the Turkey-Greece border today
Greek border police throw tear gas canisters and stun grenades to send away irregular migrants who tried to enter through the Turkish border earlier today
‘We have not identified the nationality of the aircraft which struck our convoy and positions,’ he said, but ‘the radar tracks demonstrate that (Syrian) regime and Russian aircrafts were in formation flight during that time.’
NATO envoys held emergency talks at the request of Turkey, a NATO member. Turkey’s 28 allies also expressed their condolences over the deaths and urged deescalation, but no additional NATO support was offered.
Apart from providing some aerial surveillance over Syria, NATO plays no direct role in the conflict. But its members are deeply divided over Turkey’s actions there, and European allies are concerned about any new wave of refugees.
Turkiey’s Erdogan, whose country already hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, has long threatened to ‘open the gates’ for millions to flee to Europe unless more international support was provided.
Greece and Bulgaria increased security at their borders with Turkey as hundreds boarded buses in Istanbul, apparently headed for the Greek border or the Turkish coast opposite the Greek islands.
The crisis stems from a Syrian government offensive that began Dec. 1 with Russian military support to retake Idlib province in northwestern Syria, the last opposition-held stronghold. Turkey, the main backer of the Syrian opposition, has lost 54 soldiers this month, including the latest fatalities, and now feels the need to respond strongly.
Thursday’s attack sharply raised the risk of direct military confrontation between Turkey and Russia. The Turkish stock market fell 10 per cent, while the Turkish lira slid against the dollar.
Migrants and Greek police face off as the group of Syrian refugees approach the Turkey-Greece border today
In their phone call, Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed implementing agreements in Idlib, the Kremlin said. Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan’s director of communications, said they had agreed to meet ‘as soon as possible.’
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the two leaders agreed to meet ‘at the beginning of March, when the leaders’ schedules allow.’ He added that a Russian delegation currently in Ankara is ‘intensively … conducting negotiations to stabilize the situation.’
Two Russian frigates armed with cruise missiles were en route to the Syrian coast, Russian navy officials said.
Erdogan has made no public comments but spoke with a series of global leaders Friday.
In a call with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the two agreed to meet Monday, the Bulgarian government’s press office said. It said the phone call clarified ‘there is currently no direct threat’ to the country bordering Turkey.
Erdogan also talked with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump, who both called for the Syrian government and its supporters to stop their offensive and for a deescalation to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
‘We stand by our NATO Ally Turkey in the aftermath of the despicable and brazen February 27 attack on Turkish forces in Idlib, which resulted in the death of dozens of Turkish soldiers,’ said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. ‘The (Syrian President Bashar) Assad Regime, Russia, Iran and Hizballah must cease their ongoing attacks in Idlib.’
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters that he’s talking with Russia and Turkey, appealing for an immediate cease-fire in Idlib, but ‘we are not yet there.’ He warned that ‘without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour, and as always, civilians are paying the gravest price.’
At Friday’s emergency Security Council meeting, 13 of its 15 members supported Guterres’ call for an immediate cease-fire.
Migrants from sub-saharan African countries arrive on a dinghy on a beach near the village of Skala Sikamias, after crossing part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the island of Lesbos, Greece today
Estonia’s U.N. Ambassador Sven Jurgenson said Russia has blocked Security Council resolutions calling for a cease-fire and urged Moscow ‘to reconsider.’
But Russia and China made no mention of a cease-fire, insisting that Syria has a right to go after terrorists in their own territory. China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun did say that ‘counter-terrorism operations should be cautious, not to harm civilians.’
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the Turkish troops that came under fire were deployed among ‘terrorist battle formations.’ According to coordinates given to Russia’s Reconciliation Center in Syria, ‘there were no Turkish military units in the area … and there weren’t supposed to be,’ the ministry said.
Russian air forces did not carry out airstrikes in the area, its statement said.
An Associated Press video showed rubble of a demolished building, a destroyed car and abandoned Turkish equipment at one of the sites the Syrian government targeted in the village of Balyun.
In recent weeks, Turkey has sent thousands of troops as well as tanks and other equipment to Idlib. As recently as Wednesday, Erdogan gave the Syrian government until the end of February to pull back from its recent advances or face Turkish ‘intervention.’
Yesterday, it was reported that Greece locked down its land and sea routes while Turkey pulled out of a long-standing deal to stop the country’s 3.6 million refugees from travelling beyond its borders.
Hundreds of asylum seekers immediately began making their way towards Greece and Bulgaria – and, if they successfully cross the border, could carry on deeper into Europe.
Turkey’s neighbours responded by reinforcing their frontiers. Greece said it was locking down land and sea routes ‘to the maximum level possible’, while Bulgaria deployed 1,000 troops and military hardware to its 190-mile border with Turkey.
A woman reacts as a dinghy transporting 27 refugees and migrants originating from Gambia and the Republic of Congo lands in Lesbos island after they were rescued by a war ship during their sea crossing between Turkey and Greece today
One of the first stand-offs came at Pazarkule in north-east Greece, where police used smoke grenades as dozens of migrants, including Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Moroccans gathered.
On Turkey’s Aegean coast, local TV showed two dozen people, including women and children, aboard a rubber dinghy bound for the Greek island of Lesbos.
Ankara’s move was triggered by the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers in assaults by Russian-backed troops in Syria’s Idlib province.
Desperate scenes unfolded on Friday at a border crossing near the Turkish city of Edirne after Turkish police and border guards were ordered to stand aside and allow hundreds of people through
A photo taken from Turkey’s Edirne province shows irregular migrants at Pazarkule Border Gate trying to enter Greek side to reach Europe, at Turkey’s border with Greece in Edirne, Turkey on February 28
Hundreds of asylum seekers immediately began making their way towards Greece and Bulgaria – and, if they successfully cross the border, could carry on deeper into Europe
Greek border police send away irregular migrants who cut the barbed wire and try to enter Greek side at Turkey’s border with Greece in Edirne, Turkey on February 28
Migrants set fire to keep themselves warm while waiting at Turkey’s border with Greece near Pazarkule Customs Gate in Edirne, Turkey on February 28
Turkey, which is already home to around 3.6 million Syrian refugees, is threatening to unleash a fresh migration crisis on Europe in an attempt to pressure European countries to come to its aid in Syria – where it is trying to prevent a Russian-backed government offensive in Idlib province
The country’s civil war has worsened dramatically in recent months despite largely vanishing from the agenda of Western countries. A million civilians have been displaced since December near the Turkish border.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to force European leaders into backing Turkey’s military campaign in the country.
He has threatened to renege on the refugee deal in previous spats with the West – but this is the first time Turkey has actually lowered its border controls.
It signed the EU agreement in 2016 in exchange for £5.1billion in funding. But four million asylum seekers who fled to Turkey from Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn nations are now ‘welcome’ to cross into the EU.
A spokesman said: ‘Now these migrants are not just Turkey’s problem, but Europe’s and the world’s as well. Every actor needs to do what it must.’
European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said Turkish officials had not formally notified Brussels of any change to the pact. But the prospect of a new migrant exodus caused alarm in EU countries already on coronavirus alert.
Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: ‘I want to be clear: no illegal entries into Greece will be tolerated.’
But within hours of the announcement, hundreds of migrants were heading for the border. Refugees, some carrying small children and carrier bags, trekked along roads out of Istanbul and through fields, in scenes reminiscent of the 2015 crisis.
Migrants walk towards Greece border after they get out from train coming from Istanbul, along the Turkey-Greece border near Pazarkule, in Edirne district, on February 28
Hundreds of migrants trying to get from Turkey into Greece were met with tear gas and a wall of border guards on Friday after Turkey stood aside and allowed them to try and cross
A woman screams as Greek border guards use tear gas to disperse hundreds of irregular migrants waiting at Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece in Edirne, Turkey
Turkish border guards stood aside Friday morning in Edirne and allowed migrants to rush the Greek side of the border, where they were met with tear gas
Muhammed Abdullah, a 25-year-old Syrian, said: ‘Turkey is not nice at all. Europe is nicer.’
Desperate scenes unfolded on Friday at a border crossing near the Turkish city of Edirne after Turkish police and border guards were ordered to stand aside and allow hundreds of people through.
That prompted a crowd of hundreds to rush the Greek side of the crossing, which was quickly blocked by Greek guards who fired tear gas to keep them back.
Greece and Turkey share a natural river border close to Erdine – highlighting the location’s strategic significance – but Turkish territory expands slightly west of the partition, with a border fence on Greece’s side.
Turkey, which is already home to around 3.6 million Syrian refugees, is threatening to unleash a fresh migration crisis on Europe in an attempt to pressure European countries to come to its aid in Syria – where it is trying to prevent a Russian-backed government offensive in Idlib province.
Thirty three Turkish soldiers were killed in the region on Thursday night after a Syrian government airstrike hit their position – the largest single-day loss of life by Turkish forces since they first became involved in the conflict in 2016.
The UK, US and NATO – of which Turkey is a member – subsequently condemned the Syrian government offensive and called for it to end, but did not pledge any concrete support.
On Friday one Turkish soldier was killed and another wounded in fresh artillery fire by the regime in northern Syria, the defence ministry said, a day after the killing of 33 troops.
Turkey said it would no longer prevent migrants from crossing into Europe as it attempted to pressure countries to involve themselves in Syria, where it is trying to stop a government offensive in Idlib
Turkey fears the Syrian government attack in Idlib will prompt another migrant crisis on its soil, as the region is home to 4million people – almost half of whom are living in tent cities up against the Turkish border
Greek Prime Minister said that his country will increase border security to prevent any crossings, saying that Greeks were not involved in Syria and do not bear any responsibility for the effects of the crisis
A migrant climbs barbed-wire on Turkey’s border with Greece in Edirne, Turkey on February 28. Desperate scenes unfolded on Friday at a border crossing near the Turkish city of Edirne after Turkish police and border guards were ordered to stand aside and allow hundreds of people through
Greek border security guards stand in front of refugees from Turkey at the Greek Turkish border on February 28