Migrants walk back from the Turkey-Greece border to the city centre of Edirne, Turkey, 3 March 2020 | Photo: EPA/ERDEM SAHIN
Migrants walk back from the Turkey-Greece border to the city centre of Edirne, Turkey, 3 March 2020 | Photo: EPA/ERDEM SAHIN

According to the Turkish government, some 6,000 migrants waiting at the Turkish-Greek border to cross into the European Union were sent to cities inside the country. The move is reportedly one of several measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Turkey's interior ministry on Friday said authorities brought some 6,000 migrants from the Turkish-Greek border to cities in the interior of the country. That's according to Turkish news agency DHA, which also reported that Turkish officials warned the people of the risk of infection with the novel coronavirus in case they stayed outdoors in the border region for even longer.

Also on Friday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said asylum seekers had left the region, saying they had pulled back from the border with Turkey. Reports cited coronavirus fears as the reason.

"Apparently, the makeshift camp that had been created after [March 1] has been dismantled and those who were at the Evros border [area] have moved away," Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting via teleconference.

On Thursday, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had said that 4,600 migrants were still waiting in the border area of Kastanies near the Turkish city of Edirne.

According to DHA, the asylum seekers on Thursday evening were evacuated by bus to facilities where they will be quarantined for two weeks to make sure they have not been infected with the coronavirus.

Turkish authorities dismantled the makeshift camp in Pazarkule after the migrants left, DHA said, adding that the evacuation was carried out "at the migrants' request".

Greek broadcaster TV ERT said Turkish police had set fire to the camp before leaving.

Tens of thousands of migrants had gathered at the border trying to get into EU member Greece since Turkey said on February 28 it would no longer keep them on its territory as part of a 2016 deal with the European Union reached in return for European aid for the some four million refugees Turkey hosts.

'Battle will continue'

Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis on Friday said the move would not alter Greece's plans to bolster its border fence. "A chapter may be closing, but have no doubt that this battle continues," the prime minister told ministers, according to his office.

"[There is a need] to strengthen the fence and reorganize forces without complacency," the prime minister's office said.

Map of Greece Bulgaria Turkey  Source InfoMigrantsTens of thousands of asylum seekers tried to cross into Greece from Turkey after Ankara at the end of February announced it would no longer prevent people from trying to reach the European Union.

Clashes and mutual accusations

For days, there were skirmishes on the border as migrants trying to break through threw stones at Greek riot police who fired tear gas at them.

Turkish police also bombarded Greek forces with tear gas at regular intervals, and Athens accused Turkish police of handing out wire cutters to migrants to help them break through the fence.

Moreover, Turkey accused Greece of beating migrants and firing live rounds at them, alleging that several people died of bullet injuries. The Greek government categorically denied using undue force. Moreover, Greece accused Turkey of spreading fake news.

Hundreds of asylum seekers also landed on the five Greek islands near Turkey where there are already over 36,000 migrants and refugees in overcrowded, unhygienic camps.

After Mitsotakis invited EU leaders to witness the situation, 100 officers from EU border agency Frontex were sent to the land border.

"It is important to have a regular [EU] presence on Evros and the islands," the PM's office said Friday.

This article is based mainly on material from AFP and Reuters


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