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Greece blocks thousands of migrants trying to enter from Turkey

A migrant crosses to the buffer zone during clashes with Greek police at the Turkey-Greece border, at Pazarkule, in Edirne district, on February 29, 2020. Thousands of migrants stuck on the Turkey-Greece border clashed with Greek police on February 29, 2020, according to an AFP photographer at the scene. Greek police fired tear gas at migrants who have amassed at a border crossing in the western Turkish province of Edirne, some of whom responded by hurling stones at the officers. The clashes come as Greece bolsters its border after Ankara said it would no longer prevent refugees from crossing into Europe following the death of 33 Turkish troops in northern Syria.
A migrant crosses to the buffer zone during clashes with Greek police at the Turkey-Greece border, at Pazarkule, in Edirne district, on February 29, 2020. Thousands of migrants stuck on the Turkey-Greece border clashed with Greek police on February 29, 2020, according to an AFP photographer at the scene. Greek police fired tear gas at migrants who have amassed at a border crossing in the western Turkish province of Edirne, some of whom responded by hurling stones at the officers. The clashes come as Greece bolsters its border after Ankara said it would no longer prevent refugees from crossing into Europe following the death of 33 Turkish troops in northern Syria. © Bulent Kilic, AFP

Greece has blocked nearly 10,000 migrants trying to enter from the Turkey border over the past 24 hours, a Greek government source said Sunday.

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A massive influx of people swelled along the border over the weekend after Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to open its frontier to Europe.

He is seeking to pressure EU governments over the Syrian conflict after an airstrike in Syria's Idlib province on Thursday killed dozens of Turkish soldiers.

In response, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Sunday that Greece was determined to protect is borders and warned migrants not to “attempt to enter the country illegaly as they would be returned back.”

In a tweet, Mitsotakis also said that he would be visiting the country’s Evros land border with Turkey along with EU President Charles Michel on Tuesday.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced Sunday that foreign ministers would hold an emergency meeting next week to discuss the fall-out from the worsening Syria conflict that is driving refugees to the bloc's borders with Turkey.

The EU "needs to redouble efforts to address this terrible human crisis with all the means at its disposal," said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Sunday.

Borrell said the meeting was being organised particularly at the request of Greece.

Earlier on Sunday, a Greek government source announced that its army and police had stopped thousands from entering its territory. 

"From 0600 [0400 GMT] Saturday morning to 0600 Sunday morning, 9,972 illegal entries have been averted in the Evros area," the government source said, referring to the northeastern region along the Turkey border.

Lesbos residents block boat

Huge crowds tried to cross into Greece via the Kastanies Forest in the early hours of Sunday, the source said.

Greek authorities said at least 139 migrants have been arrested since Friday.

Residents on the Greek island of Lesbos set fire Sunday to a disused migrant centre after blocking dozens of people from landing on a nearby beach, an AFP photographer reported.

Around 150 people gathered at the centre which was run by the UN refugee agency before some of them set it alight, after local people stopped around 50 migrants from landing their boat.

Alert changed to 'high'

The EU’s border protection agency Frontex said on Sunday that it is preparing back-up along the Greek border.

"We... have raised the alert level for all borders with Turkey to high," the Frontex spokeswoman said in a statement to AFP, adding: "We have received a request from Greece for additional support. We have already taken steps to redeploy to Greece technical equipment and additional officers."

Some 13,000 migrants have gathered along the Turkish-Greek border, including families with young children, the International Organization for Migration said Saturday.

Greek security forces are patrolling the Evros river shores -- a common crossing point -- and have issued loudspeaker warnings not to enter Greek territory.

On Saturday, clashes erupted along the border where Greek police fired tear gas at migrants who in turn lobbed rocks at officers. 


Syria closes airspace

The Syrian government said that it was closing its airspace over northwest Idlib.

The state media SANA reported a military source as saying: "Any aircraft that violates our airspace will be treated as a hostile flight that must be shot down and prevented from achieving its objectives."

Erdogan threatened to open Turkey's gates for some of the 3.6 million refugees it is harbouring as a way to pressure EU countries over the conflict in Syria.

Turkey and Russia, who back opposing forces in the conflict, have held talks to defuse tensions after the air strike left 34 Turkish troops dead, sparking fears of a broader war and a new migration crisis for Europe.

Half a million children displaced from their homes

The UN says nearly a million people -- half of them children -- have been displaced by the fighting in northwest Syria since December, forced to flee in the bitter cold.

In 2015, Greece became the main EU entry point for one million migrants, most of them refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen expressed "concern" over the unimpeded flow of migrants from Turkey to the bloc's external borders in Greece and Bulgaria.

"Our top priority at this stage is to ensure that Greece and Bulgaria have our full support," she tweeted Saturday.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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