Greek police fired tear gas to push back hundreds of stone-throwing migrants trying to cross the border from Turkey on Saturday, as a crisis over Syria shifted onto the European Union’s doorstep.
Greece, which has tense relations with Turkey, accused Ankara of sending the migrants to the border post in an organized “onslaught” and said it would keep them out.
Turkey said on Thursday it would stop keeping hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in its territory after an air strike on Idlib in neighboring Syria killed 33 Turkish soldiers.
Convoys of people appeared heading towards the land and sea borders of Greece, which was a gateway for hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers into Europe in 2015 and 2016.
“They (the migrants) didn’t come here on their own. They are being sent away and being used by (our) neighbor, Turkey,” Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis told reporters near the northern Greek border town of Kastanies.
“Greece … faced an organized, mass and illegal attempt to violate its borders and it withstood this attempt,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said, adding that by Saturday morning authorities had prevented more than 4,000 people from entering Greece.
The crisis is the first big policy test for Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was elected in July and promised a tougher stance on immigration.
Turkey hit back at the Greek accusations.
“Look who’s lecturing us on international law! They’re shamelessly throwing tear gas bombs on thousands of innocents piled at their gates,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted, along with pictures of hundreds of people sitting outside the Greek border post.
“We don’t have an obligation to stop people leaving our country but Greece has the duty to treat them as human beings!”
The European Union said it was supporting Greece — and its neighbor Bulgaria, which also shares a border with Turkey — in protecting the bloc’s borders, but also sought to placate Ankara.