Riot-control police used tear gas and a water cannon to drive back people trying to cross the land border in the morning. The refugees and migrants were quick to sit peacefully in front of the gates, chanting "peace", "freedom" and "open the gates".

Greek riot police seen through smoke during clashes at the no man's land at Greek-Turkish border in Kastanies, Evros on March 6, 2020.
Greek riot police seen through smoke during clashes at the no man's land at Greek-Turkish border in Kastanies, Evros on March 6, 2020. (Giannis Papanikos / AP)

Brief clashes erupted anew on the Greek-Turkish border Friday as asylum seekers attempted to push through into Greece, while the European Union's foreign ministers held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation on the border and in Syria, where Turkish troops are deployed.

Greek police fired tear gas at refugees and migrants trying to break through the fence, who responded by throwing stones, according to journalists at the scene.

Calm was quickly restored, with hundreds of refugees sitting peacefully in front of the gates, chanting "peace", "freedom" and "open the gates".

Makeshift camps for thousands of asylum seekers have sprung up around the border since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week they would no longer be stopped from trying to leave the country.

Thousands of refugees and other migrants have been trying to get into Greece through the country’s eastern land and sea borders over the past week.

“Praising Greek border guards using teargas and other violent means to prevent crossing at the land border and engaging in dangerous, and possibly criminal, behaviour against asylum seekers and migrants at sea is quite frankly irresponsible,” Lotte Leicht , EU director at Human Rights Watch, said.

“If the EU’s highest officials are willing to turn a blind eye to such abuses and violations of international law, they will invite more of the same” Leicht added.  

Turkish special forces patrol the border with Greece at Edirne after Greek forces used tear gas on refugees. March 06, 2020.
Turkish special forces patrol the border with Greece at Edirne after Greek forces used tear gas on refugees. March 06, 2020. (AA / AA)

Turkey has said it is deploying 1,000 special forces police on its side of the border to prevent Greek authorities from pushing back migrants who manage to cross into Greece. 

Turkish police fired volleys of tear gas back toward Greece on Friday. Reporters were being kept away from the border area but saw at least one bus full of people leaving the area Friday morning.

It was unclear where the bus was headed.

Turkey's refugee burden

After months of warnings, Erdogan has now said his country will no longer be the gatekeeper for Europe. He has demanded that Europe shoulder more of the burden of caring for refugees although the EU insists it is abiding by a deal in which it disbursed billions of euros for care in return for Turkey keeping the refugees on its soil.

His decision and its aftermath have alarmed governments in Europe, which is still seeing political fallout from mass migration that started five years ago.

Erdogan's move came amid a Syrian regime offensive in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, where Turkish troops are fighting.

The Russia-backed offensive has killed dozens of Turkish troops and sent nearly a million Syrian civilians toward Turkey’s sealed border.

Ankara in response launched Operation Spring Shield against the Assad regime on February 27, eliminating hundreds of regime forces and militia and dealing a heavy blow to regime armour and artillery.

A ceasefire in Idlib brokered by Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday went into effect at midnight. It was not clear whether the agreement would also affect the situation on the Turkish-Greek border. 

EU discusses more funds for Turkey

European Union foreign ministers were holding an emergency meeting in Zagreb, Croatia to discuss Syria and the border situation.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU needs to improve relations with Turkey and Russia, adding the ministers will discuss more funds for Turkey. He wouldn't provide details or say how many countries support or oppose the idea.

“Turkey is having a big burden, 4 million people, we have to understand that," Borrell said. "But at the same time, we cannot accept migrants being used as a source of pressure.”

“The EU needs to act collectively, we cannot allow one member state or two member states to carry an unfair burden,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said as he arrived for the Zagreb meeting.

However, he said it was unacceptable for Greek police to fire rubber bullets at migrants.

“We’ve got to treat people as human beings," he said. While I accept there are pressures on security forces and police officers on the border there because there has been panic ... I think we have to act with restraint.”

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok, however, said he opposed more aid for Turkey, criticising the “cynical way” Erdogan was using refugees.

“We should not react to the pressure that Turkey is exerting on us by agreeing to more money under pressure," he said.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the situation on the borders would also be discussed at the meeting.

“We are facing a mass movement of migrants towards the borders of Greece and Europe,” he said as he arrived for the talks.

“Migrants who have been living in Turkey for years. We have clear proof that this population movement has been created and orchestrated by Turkey."

On the Greek side of the border, authorities were using locals with better knowledge of the terrain to apprehend those who manage to cross, either by cutting holes in the border fence or by crossing the Evros river (Meric in Turkish) that runs along most of the border.

“We were born here, we live here, we work here, we know the crossings better than anyone,” said Panayiotis Ageladarakis, head of the community of the border village of Amorio.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies