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EU pledges financial, border assistance to Greece over migrant surge

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Kastanies (Greece) (AFP)

EU chiefs on Tuesday pledged millions of euros of financial assistance to Greece to help tackle the migration surge from neighbouring Turkey, warning against those wishing to "test Europe's unity".

Flying by helicopter over the Greek-Turkish border, where thousands of desperate asylum-seekers have tried to break through for days, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc would provide Greece "all the support needed".

"Those who seek to test Europe's unity will be disappointed. We will hold the line and our unity will prevail," von der Leyen said, standing alongside Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the chiefs of the European Council and European Parliament.

The European Commission president said the bloc would provide 700 million euros ($777 million), half of it immediately, to help manage the migrant situation.

In addition, the EU border agency Frontex will deploy a rapid intervention team including an additional 100 guards backed by coastal patrol vessels, helicopters and vehicles, she said.

"Our first priority is making sure that order is maintained at the Greek external border, which is also the European border," von der Leyen told journalists.

- 'Wake-up call' for Europe -

Earlier, Mitsotakis announced that Greek border forces had averted "over 24,000 attempts at illegal entry" by land and sea, making dozens of arrests.

"Europe has not been up to the task of dealing with the migration crisis," he said.

"I hope this crisis will serve as a wake-up call for everyone to assume their responsibilities."

Amid claims on the Turkish side that Greek security forces are shooting near migrants, European Council President Charles Michel said it was "crucial to act in a proportionate manner and to show respect for human dignity and international law".

At the Greek border crossing of Kastanies, AFP reporters saw soldiers boarding migrants onto military vehicles. Other unmarked vans were also picking up migrants wandering on the streets.

Thousands have arrived at the frontier since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced last week that it would no longer stop them trying to enter Europe.

European leaders have insisted Turkey abide by a 2016 deal to stop migrant departures in exchange for six billion euros in assistance.

Von der Leyen said she had "compassion for the migrants that have been lured through false promises into this desperate situation."

Turkey already hosts some four million refugees and faces another huge influx from Syria where the regime, backed by Russian air power, is pressing a violent offensive to retake the last rebel-held province of Idlib.

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