Greece sealed its key land Kastanies border crossing with Turkey Friday after Ankara declared it’s allowing refugees to flee Idlib and on to Europe for at least 72 hours, in response to Syrian-Russian airstrikes killing 33 Turkish troops Thursday.
Germany’s Bild newspaper reported Friday that Greece is taking further emergency measures to prevent Erdogan from effectively “opening the gates” on new waves of refugee and migrant hordes seeking entry to the EU, noting the country “completely closed off its borders with Turkey: not just for refugees, but for EVERYONE.”
The newspaper said 50 naval ships, likely most of them small patrol vessels, have been deployed by the Hellenic Navy to ensure those coming out of Turkey don’t get through.
Citing a top Greek government official, Bild reported further this will include air support.
“According to BILD information, the government sent 50 warships to the Greek islands to protect the EU’s external borders,” the German tabloid said. “Ten helicopters are also supposed to secure the transitions to Turkey on land.”
Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper said military commandos were being sent to key crossings following an emergency meeting of key government officials Friday to deal with the crisis:
Patrols along the land and river border in northeastern Evros have been bolstered since Friday morning, when the first large groups of migrants began to arrive following an announcement on Thursday night by a Turkish government official saying that Ankara would no longer try to prevent Syrians fleeing war in their country from attempting the crossing to the European Union.
The army has also dispatched two commando units to help the Hellenic Police guards at the border, and particularly to patrol the more dangerous sections of the Evros River.
Turkish TVs broadcast footages showing migrants are boarding boats off Turkish coast, departing to Greek islands pic.twitter.com/YLMEM1lCMk
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) February 28, 2020
And The Guardian reported further early Friday: “Hundreds of Syrian refugees in Turkey have begun preparing to travel towards the country’s borders with Greece and Bulgaria after Ankara’s sudden decision to no longer impede their passage to Europe.”
“Turkish police, coastguard and border security officials were ordered to stand down overnight on Thursday, Turkish officials briefed reporters,” the report added.
As European officials mull whether this is but more of Erdogan’s threats or perhaps an early “taste” of what’s to come, or whether the flood has begun, Bulgaria has begun taking extra security action as well, bolstering patrols along border areas with Turkey
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed that “no illegal entries into Greece will be tolerated” – noting greatly tightened security along the EU’s external borders.
— Ibrahim Hamidi (@ibrahimhamidi) February 28, 2020
Turkey’s communications director Fahrettin Altun had earlier said Turkey had “no choice” but to relax border controls after its pleas for greater European help in assisting with the over 3 million refugees on its territory went unheeded.
However, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu sought to downplay new reports of Turkey encouraging refugees exit toward Europe, saying Turkey’s policy hasn’t changed. But footage coming out of Turkey and the Greece-Turkey main crossing throughout Friday speaks otherwise.