Greek police fired tear gas at migrants trying to push into Greece from Turkey through the land border Monday, and a child died when a dinghy boat capsized during a sea crossing, after Turkey opened its frontier for migrants and refugees to enter Europe.
The child’s death, reported by the Greek coast guard, was the first since thousands of migrants began massing at the frontiers with Greece over the weekend after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an easing of restrictions on those wishing to cross to Europe.
Turkey’s announcement, initially by an official on Thursday, marked a dramatic departure from a previous policy of containing the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants in Turkey. Erdogan apparently aims to pressure Europe into offering Turkey more support in dealing with the fallout from the Syrian war to its south.
Erdogan said Monday that Western leaders had started to call him urging him to reverse the border opening. He said he told them, “It’s done, the doors are open now. You will have your share of this burden now.” He added that soon “the number of people going to the border will be expressed in millions.”
Thousands of migrants on Monday tried to find a way across Turkey’s land border into Greece, which has made clear its borders will remain closed. Dozens managing to pass through either border fences or fording the river there. As Greek police fired tear gas, a group of several hundred holding white flags shouted “peace, peace,” asking to be let into Greece. Others were trying to reach Greek islands from the Turkish coast.
Turkey’s decision to ease border restrictions came amid a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive into Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. That offensive has killed dozens of Turkish troops and led to a surge of nearly a million Syrian civilians fleeing toward Turkey’s sealed border, threatening a dramatic new influx of displaced into a country that already hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
Fighting on the ground in Idlib continued Monday, with heavy clashes between Syrian government forces and Turkish-backed fighters. Syrian troops retook the strategic town of Saraqeb, which lies on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, although violence continued nearby. The Kremlin said Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet in Moscow on Thursday for talks on Idlib.
The Greek coast guard said 48 migrants on a dinghy heading to the island of Lesbos, accompanied by a Turkish patrol vessel while in Turkish waters, deliberately overturned their boat once in Greek waters, triggering a rescue operation Monday morning.
The coast guard said they rescued the migrants, including two children who were hospitalized, one of them unconscious. Resuscitation efforts on the unconscious child, a boy aged around 6 or 7, failed, the coast guard said. The other child was considered out of danger. Their nationality was not immediately available.
Greek authorities said that in the 24 hours from 6 a.m. local time Sunday, they thwarted 9,877 attempts to cross the northwestern land border, either through the fence or across the Evros River, which runs along the frontier. Authorities arrested 68 people and charged them with illegal entry.
Therose Ngonda, a 40-year-old woman from Cameroon, made it into Greece by wading across the river.
Speaking in the morning, her feet still wet from the river crossing, she said she had been told migrants had 72 hours from Friday to leave Turkey. She got on one of dozens of buses and minibuses that have been ferrying people from Istanbul to the border, among about 2,000 people, including Syrians and families with young children.[ad_2]