Migrants walk to the border gate of Pararkule in Edirne | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/IHA
Migrants walk to the border gate of Pararkule in Edirne | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/IHA

Hundreds of Europe-bound migrants have begun heading to northwest Turkey towards Bulgaria and Greece. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party said the refugees began their journey after a Syrian attack in Idlib.

Turkey is "no longer able to hold refugees" following a Syrian attack that killed 33 troops in Idlib, Omer Celik, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AKP party, said on Friday.

The announcement comes as some 300 migrants walk through northwest Turkey towards its borders with Greece and Bulgaria on Friday, according to DHA news agency.

Read more: Live updates: Syrian airstrikes kill dozens of Turkish troops in Idlib

"As a result of the attack, the (refugees) in Turkey are heading towards Europe, and those on Syrian territory are heading towards Turkey," Celik told CNN Türk shortly after midnight Friday morning.

"Our refugee policy is the same as before, but we are now in a situation where we can no longer hold them."

UN, EU query reports of fresh migrant influx

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday it did not have reports of people in Turkey on the move towards Greece or other parts of Europe.

The EU has also expressed doubt about the influx of refugees reported by some media outlets.

"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.

"We have not received any communication to that effect. We have no reports of a visible shift of movement to the borders," UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said at a news briefing in Geneva.

Demiroren news agency said the group of migrants, including women and children, embarked on their journey from Turkey's Edirne province toward borders with Bulgaria and Greece — two European Union nations — at around midnight. Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Moroccans were among those in the group.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has discussed the situation in Turkey and the movement of migrants towards Greek borders during a call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Greece steps up border patrol

In anticipation of the migrants, Greece has increased border patrols "to the maximum possible level," according to the Agence France Presse. Greece boosted its military presence along the Turkish border earlier this month, and the government has looked into installing a floating barrier in the Aegean Sea to stop migrants arriving.

According to EU figures, Greece saw more than 60,000 asylum seekers arrive from Turkey on the shores of its Aegean islands in 2019, andit expects more than 100,000 more in 2020.

Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrians under a 2016 agreement with the EU to halt the flow of migrants in to Europe. The agreement resulted from European migrant crisis of 2015 in which millions of refugees flooded into Europe, nearly half of which from Syria.

Since then, Erdogan has threatened repeatedly to "open the gates" amid several disputes with Europe.

ed,dv/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

First published: February 28, 2020

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