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Turkey-Greece border clashes, EU seeks to deter migrants

US, WASHINGTON (NEWS OBSERVATORY) — New clashes broke out briefly on Friday at the Greek-Turkish border between Greek police officers firing tear gas canisters and migrants throwing stones, when the European Union warned the refugees that its doors were open to them.

After these scuffles, hundreds of migrants gathered in front of the Pazarkule border crossing (called Kastanies, Greek side), chanting “freedom”, “peace” and “open the doors!”, According to an AFP photographer.

Some people held up signs above the barbed wire which read “We want to live in peace”.

“We simply want a better life, a better situation, to live in freedom”, explains to AFP Amir Massoud, an Iranian, sanitary mask on the face to protect himself from the tear gas.

After the announcement on February 28 by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the opening of its borders to the EU, several thousand migrants headed for Greece, awakening in Europe the memory of the migration crisis of 2015.

The European Union has strongly denounced the migrants as “blackmailed” when Ankara claims Western support in Syria, a country where Turkey is carrying out a military operation and is faced with an influx of displaced people towards its border.

The EU sent a message to migrants on Friday to discourage them from traveling to the Turkish-Greek border.

“I want to send a clear message: do not go to the border. The border is not open,” said European Foreign Minister Josep Borrell after a meeting of foreign ministers from member countries in Zagreb.

– Convictions in Lesbos –

Greek authorities accused Turkish forces of shooting tear gas and smoke bombs on the Greek side of the border on Friday. “There were coordinated attacks this morning,” said a Greek official.

According to Athens, the Turkish authorities are also distributing material to cut the fences preventing immigrants from crossing to the Greek side.

Facing this land border closed by double turn, several hundred migrants have managed to reach the Aegean islands by taking to the sea since last week.

In a context that has already been particularly tense in recent weeks, where the inhabitants of the islands oppose the construction of new detention camps, the new arrivals have sparked an explosion of anger against aid workers and journalists in particular.

In Lesvos, two residents were sentenced to three months in prison on Friday for violence committed last weekend.

While thousands of migrants are now stranded on the Greek-Turkish border, makeshift camps have formed on the Turkish side.

Many migrants sleep in the open air despite the cold. The lucky ones, often families with children, have made tents with tarpaulins, from which they emerge exhausted every morning.

– Exploited –

Some of them expressed their growing frustration with Ankara on Friday, believing that they had been duped by Turkish authorities who had made them believe that they could easily cross the border.

“We were told:” Either you cross illegally or you leave here. “But we did not come to cross the border illegally,” Sina, an Iranian, told AFP. “We are here because Turkey has allowed us to come.”

Coaches parked not far from the Pazarkule border crossing offered Friday to take migrants to the MeriƧ river (Evros, in Greek), which separates Turkey and Greece.

A whole system of exploitation of migrants has also developed, with Turkish street vendors selling bottles of water, food or materials to make shelters at tenfold prices.

A man sold five meters of plastic stretch film for 200 Turkish pounds (30 euros), against a few dozen pounds in the market. Around him, Afghan, Pakistani or other nationalities crowded, tickets in hand.

The new clashes come the day after the signing, in Moscow, of a cease-fire agreement in the Idleb region (north-west of Syria) between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

An official in the Turkish presidency told the state news agency Anadolu that the ceasefire did not mean that Ankara would close its borders with Europe.

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Article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by News Observatory staff in our US newsroom.