Since Turkey said last week it would no longer stop refugees from crossing into Europe, more than 10,000 migrants—including many from Syria and Afghanistan—have arrived at its land borders with EU countries and at least 1,000 have landed on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands. Greek authorities have responded with tear gas and a halt to asylum requests. The rush to the border is already fueling a crisis. A child died when a boat capsized on Monday, and Turkish security sources have reported at least one Syrian migrant was killed at the land border.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, was expected to visit the Greek-Turkish border today (4 March). She has expressed sympathy with Turkey’s “difficult situation”—hosting more than 3 million refugees—but condemned its move to let them leave its territory for Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan directly, calling the decision “unacceptable”.
But Erdogan doubled down on Monday. “The period of single-sided sacrifice has come to an end,” he said. “The number of people who are headed toward Europe since the moment we opened our borders has reached hundreds of thousands. This figure will soon reach millions.” (These figures do not correspond to eyewitness accounts and appear to be vastly inflated.)
Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced Sunday (1 March) that Greece would stop taking new asylum requests for a month. The UN refugee agency said Monday that it has no right to do so under international or EU law, even as the EU rushes to help Greece police its border.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government offensive that has displaced at least 1 million people continues in the country’s northwest. The fighting has escalated in recent days, and President Bashar al-Assad’s troops reentered a strategic town on Monday. Turkey, which supports some rebel groups, has said it will keep up drone strikes against the Syrian army.
Turkey’s decision to allow migrants to cross into Europe was intended to get EU leaders to come to its aid against Assad—but so far it isn’t working, Tessa Fox reports from the Turkey-Greece border.