KASTANIES: A child died after being pulled from the sea when a boat capsized yesterday off the Greek island of Lesbos, Greek officials said, the first reported fatality since Turkey opened its border last week to let migrants reach Europe. Separately, two Turkish security sources said a Syrian migrant had died from injuries yesterday after Greek security forces intervened to prevent migrants crossing from Turkey into Greece, but Athens branded the claim “fake news”.
More than 10,000 migrants, mostly from Syria, other Middle Eastern states and Afghanistan, have reached Turkey’s land borders with EU states Greece and Bulgaria since Ankara said last Thursday it would stop keeping them on its territory. Greek and Turkish police fired tear gas into crowds caught between the fences in no-man’s land over the weekend. Further south, at least 1,000 migrants have reached Greece’s eastern Aegean islands since Sunday morning, Greek police say.
The Greek coast guard said the boat which capsized off Lesbos had been escorted there by a Turkish vessel. Forty-six people were rescued and two children taken to hospital, one of whom could not be revived. Another dinghy with about 30 Afghans arrived on Lesbos early in the morning, a Reuters journalist reported from the island. Thirty-two others were rescued in the seas off Farmakonissi, a small island close to Turkey, the coast guard said.
“This is an invasion,” Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis told Skai TV yesterday. The latest migrant surge follows Turkey’s decision to stop enforcing a 2016 agreement with the European Union whereby it prevented migrants entering the bloc in return for billions of euros in aid. Turkey, already home to 3.7 million Syrian refugees, has another million arriving on its doorstep from a new surge of fighting in northern Syria and says it cannot handle any more.
Greek officials have accused Turkey of orchestrating a coordinated effort to drive migrants across the frontier. One Greek policeman accused Turkish soldiers at the Kastanies border gate of “giving cutters” to migrants to cut holes in the fence to get through. Reuters could not independently verify the report. Migrants on the Turkish side of the border, some holding white flags, called the Greek soldiers and riot police to open the gates to let them through, saying they had kids and women.
A Greek government spokesman said a video circulating on social media showing a young man with wounds to the head laid out on the ground near the border was “fake news”. Two Turkish security sources said the Syrian man had died of his wounds. “We call upon everyone to use caution when reporting news that furthers Turkish propaganda,” spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Twitter. Earlier, Petsas told reporters after a national security meeting in Athens that the migrant surge posed “an active, serious, severe and asymmetrical threat to national security”.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has beefed up border security and warned migrants not to try to cross, will visit the frontier on Tuesday with European Council head Charles Michel and European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of Bulgaria, which also shares a land border with Turkey, was due to hold talks in Ankara yesterday evening with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the migrant crisis.
Turkey’s decision to open its border threatens to reverse an agreement that halted Western Europe’s biggest wave of migration since World War Two, the 2015-2016 crisis when 4,000 people drowned in Aegean and more than a million reached Greece. There are more than 40,000 migrants still living on Greece’s Aegean islands in severely overcrowded camps. Erdogan, who has long accused the EU of failing to provide enough support to Turkey over the migrant crisis, took the decision after at least 33 Turkish soldiers sent to Syria to monitor a crumbling ceasefire there were killed last week. – Reuters