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Syrian migrant killed as thousands try to cross into Greece, Turkish authorities say

Migrants wait to cross the border from Turkey into Greece near the town of Kastanies on March 2, 2020.
Migrants wait to cross the border from Turkey into Greece near the town of Kastanies on March 2, 2020. © Sakis Mitrolidis, AFP

A Syrian migrant seeking to cross from Turkey into Greece died after Greek security forces intervened to prevent the passage of migrants gathered on the border, Turkish security sources said Monday. A Greek government spokesman denied the report, calling it Turkish propaganda.

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The incident occurred after the Turkish government opened its border last week to let migrants reach Europe. There was no immediate comment from Greek officials.

More than 10,000 migrants have attempted to cross by land at the border, where guards from both sides have fired tear gas into crowds caught between the fences in no-man's land. At least 1,000 more have reached Greece's Eastern Aegean islands by boat since Sunday morning, Greek police say.

Earlier on Monday, a child died after being pulled from the sea when a boat capsized off the Greek island of Lesbos, in the first confirmed fatality since Turkey opened its border.

Turkey, which is home to 3.7 million Syrian refugees and has another million on its doorstep from a new surge of fighting, said last week it would stop enforcing a 2016 agreement that had prevented migrants from reaching the EU.

Greek officials accused Turkey of orchestrating a coordinated effort to drive migrants across the frontier.

"This movement is guided and encouraged by Turkey," government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters after a national security meeting in Athens. He called the surge of migrants at the border "an active, serious, severe and asymmetrical threat to the national security of the country".

Turkey's announcement last week threatens to reverse an agreement that halted Western Europe's biggest wave of migration since World War Two. Some 4,000 people drowned in Aegean and more than a million reached Greece at the height of the crisis between 2015 and 2016.

The Greek coast guard said the boat which capsized off Lesbos on Monday morning 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 on Monday.

EN NW GRAB SAVARICAS ATHENS FROM 20H30

Late on Sunday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted that Greece was determined to protect its borders and warned migrants not to attempt to cross as security was increased to the maximum. He is expected to visit the border on Tuesday with Charles Michel, chairman of EU leadership summits.

French President Emmanuel Macron voiced his “full support” for Greece in a tweet on Sunday, saying France was “ready to contribute to European efforts to lend assistance [to Greece] and protect the borders”.

Under a 2016 EU agreement with Turkey, Ankara agreed to stop migrants from crossing into the EU and accept most of them back if they did cross, effectively ending a crisis which toppled several EU governments and fuelled the rise of the far right.

In return, the EU offered funds. But Turkey says the arrangement is in jeopardy with a new wave of Syrian refugees on its southern border, driven there by an escalation of fighting since December. Last week, at least 33 Turkish troops sent to Syria to monitor a crumbling ceasefire were killed in the Turkish army's worst attack in nearly 30 years.

The 2016 agreement halted most crossings between Greece and Turkey, although there are more than 40,000 migrants on the Aegean islands in severely overcrowded camps.

On Monday, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the 2016 migrant deal between Turkey and the EU was still in place and should be adhered to. 

"We are convinced about the value of the agreement and we expect it to be upheld," Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin. 

The EU's chief executive, Ursula von der Leyen, expressed sympathy with Turkey over the conflict in Syria but said it was not possible for Ankara to let refugees and migrants on its territory cross into Europe.

"I acknowledge that Turkey is in a difficult situation with regards to the refugees and the migrants. But what we see now cannot be an answer or solution," she told a news conference.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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