At least 13,000 migrants are waiting at the Greek border after the Turkish president’s decision last weekend to open its doors to the European Union.
Greece has placed Sunday 1 st March on alert “maximum” to protect its borders with the influx of thousands of migrants at the gates of the country, causing anxiety and anger on the islands and in border communities.
“Our national security council has decided to raise the level of border protection to its maximum,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis after a crisis meeting. Greece faces an “asymmetric threat to the security of our country” after Turkey’s decision to open its doors to the European Union , added government spokesman Stelios Petsas.
The Greek authorities have decided to further strengthen their patrols at the sea and land borders in the northeast of the country. All new asylum applications will also be suspended for those entering the country illegally, said Stelios Petsas.
A burned out reception center
In the Aegean Sea, at least 500 migrants docked Sunday aboard a dozen boats in different points of the island of Lesvos, according to the AFP count. After the arrival of dozens of them on Skala Sykamineas beach, 150 inhabitants of the island gathered around a reception center for migrants located nearby, before setting it on fire, noted an AFP photographer.
Even though the center, formerly managed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), had been closed at the end of January, they feared it would open again. It was partially burned, and around 70 asylum seekers were still on the beach, without blankets, in the early evening.
Earlier, the cries of “Go back to Turkey!” ” Residents of the island prevented about fifty migrants, including several children, from docking with their canoe after several hours at sea, AFP photographers noted. In the port of Thermi, some insulted the local UNHCR representative, others attacked journalists and photographers, hitting them and throwing cameras overboard.
“We have nothing against the refugees but […] those who are preparing to come here must understand that this is the way we are going to receive them now. This is the only way to stop them from coming, ” said Despoina, a resident of Thermi.
For his part, Niki Tsirigoti, a resident of Mytilene, the main town of Lesbos, protested: “It is unacceptable to return refugees and migrants. They are human beings, the authorities must take the situation in hand. “
13,000 migrants massed along the border
On the road to the overcrowded Moria camp, where more than 19,000 migrants are already staying, another group of residents with chains and stones tried to stop police buses carrying asylum seekers who arrived on Sunday , to access the reception and registration center, according to the Greek press agency ANA.
In search of Western support in his military offensive in Syria against the Damascus regime, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the doors of Europe to migrants, who, by the thousands, including women and children, poured in on Sunday cutting across fields towards the border with Greece.
Saturday evening, the United Nations had estimated at 13,000 the number of migrants massed along the 212 km of border between the two countries, which borders the Evros river.
At the Kastanies border post, faced with the thousands of migrants massed behind the fences, some of which threw projectiles, Greek police used tear gas canisters and water cannons on Sunday, AFP journalists found. In 24 hours, the authorities blocked the “illegal entry” of 15,500 migrants along the Evros river, according to a government source on Sunday.
UN calls not to use “excessive” force
The UN refugee agency on Sunday called for “calm and easing of border tensions” . “States have the legitimate right to control their borders and manage irregular movements, but they should refrain from using excessive and disproportionate force and put in place a system for making an asylum request in a manner orderly, ” Babar Baloch, a spokesman for the High Commission for Refugees, wrote to AFP.
Faced with these influxes of migrants, Emmanuel Macron for his part stressed the “full solidarity” of France with Greece but also with Bulgaria. “France is ready to contribute to European efforts to give them rapid assistance and protect the borders,” said the head of state in a tweet Sunday evening.
“We must act together to avoid a humanitarian and migratory crisis, ” he added.