Migrants on the Greek-Turkish border | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo
Migrants on the Greek-Turkish border | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo

The Turkish president has vowed to keep the border with Greece open to migrants. Germany has called on Turkey to respect its €6 billion deal with the EU to control migration.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Monday to maintain the flow of migrants towards the Greek border.

"Hundreds of thousands have crossed, soon we will reach millions," Erdogan said in a televised speech. However, his claim that hundreds of thousands of people are already at the border appears to be inflated significantly, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration.

Erdogan called on Europe to help take responsibility for the migrant crisis.

"After we opened the doors, there were multiple calls saying 'close the doors'," he said. "I told them 'it's done. It's finished. The doors are now open. Now, you (Europe) will have to take your share of the burden.'"

In a bid to pressure the EU into supporting Turkey's role in the conflict in Syria, Istanbul declared its border to Greece open for the millions of displaced people currently in the country.

The massing of migrants has caused fears of a repeat of the 2015 European migrant crisis, in which more than 1 million people crossed into Europe.

Read more: What you need to know about the escalation in Syria's Idlib

Frontex: Situation to deteriorate

The European Union's border agency Frontex is expecting "mass migration flows" that will be difficult to stop, according to media reports.

"It will be difficult to stop the massive flow of people who have set out on their journey," an internal Frontex report said, according to German daily Die Welt.  

"That is why we can expect an increase in pressure in the coming days — even in the event that Turkish authorities act to prevent people from crossing the border."

Frontex told DW it had received a request from Greece on Sunday "to launch a rapid intervention at its external borders."

"We are looking into how to best support Greece in the shortest time possible," a Frontex spokesperson said.

Greece on high alert

Greece declared its highest alert level as a massive influx of refugees flowed to the border.

Land and sea patrols in the country's northeast will be stepped up, according to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Thousands of migrants came by bus, car, taxi and foot to the border after Turkey announced the border was open, with many attempting to cross into Greece.

Only a few dozen actually made it across the border with Greece deploying heavy border control measures.

Greek authorities said that in just 24 hours they thwarted 9,877 attempts to cross the northeastern land border. At least 68 people people were arrested on charges of illegal entry into the country.

About 13,000 people stayed overnight at the border during frost, according to the UN Organization for Migration.

IOM spokesperson Joe Lowry told DW that clusters of people ranging from just a few members up to several thousand were spread along the border.

Lowry said the IOM's main focus right now was to build a picture of the situation and that it was still investigating the scene. Limited amounts of aid were being distributed to people at the border.

Germany calls on Turkey to respect migrant agreement

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday: "We are currently experiencing a very worrying situation at the EU's external borders with Turkey, on land and at sea. We are seeing refugees and migrants who are told by the Turkish side that the way into the EU is now open, and of course it is not."

"This puts these people, men, women and children, in an extremely difficult situation, and it also presents Greece with enormous challenges. The German government is aware of all this."

Seibert called on Turkey to respect its agreement wtith the EU to limit and control illegal migration and to combat criminal smugglers.

"The Federal Government remains convinced that this agreement is good for both sides, that it helps and should be maintained and observed, he said."

He said that while Turkey was bearing a huge burden by hosting 3.5 million refugees and migrants, the EU had promised €6 billion ($6.66 billion) in aid, more than half of which has already been paid out.

"We are certainly experiencing a situation at the moment that is not in the spirit of this agreement, but we are not experiencing a cancellation of this agreement either", he said. "This agreement has its value."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: "We must not allow refugees to be made the plaything of geopolitical interests. No matter who tries to do so, they must always expect our resistance."

He said the EU was committed to helping to provide dignified care for refugees in Syria and Turkey, but he reminded Turkey of its obligations to the deal.

Maas expressed solidarity with Greece must not be left alone.

Read more: Offensive in Syria's Idlib puts strain on EU-Turkey refugee deal

Gunfire heard on Lesbos, child drowns

As well as migrants massing at the land border, there has an influx of people attempting to reach the Eastern Aegean Islands, with more than 1,000 people arriving since Sunday morning.

DW's Florian Schmitz reported hearing gunfire on the island of Lesbos as he was turned away by locals.

A child died and 47 migrants were rescued after a boat capsized near the island of Lesbos, the Greek coastguard said on Monday.

Turkish lawyers told DW that one woman and three children drowned at the island.

Turkish news outlets reported that a Syrian migrant was shot dead by Greek security forces, however this was denounced as fake news by the Greek government. 

EU leaders traveling to Greece

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, EU Council President Charles Michel and European Parliament President David Sassoli will travel to the Greek border, Greek leader Mitsotakis announced on Monday.

The conservative politician said it was an "important sign of support from all three institutions at a time when Greece is successfully defending EU borders."

Von der Leyen later expressed sympathy with Turkey over the conflict in Syria  but said opening the border was not the answer.

"I acknowledge that Turkey is in a difficult situation with regards to the refugees and the migrants. But what we see now cannot be an answer or solution," she told a news conference.

NGO demands Germany help

German NGO Pro Asyl called on Monday for Germany to take in more refugees.

"We can and we should take in a significant number of refugees who are now desperate in misery camps on the Greek islands and other places on Europe's external border," the refugee organisation declared on Monday.

It said it was clear that "the reception of refugees since 2015 has been a success story."

aw/stb (dpa, AFP, epd, AP)

First published: March 2, 2020

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