KASTANIES, Greece (AP) – Clashes between Greek riot police and migrants attempting to cross the border from Turkey erupted anew on Friday as European Union (EU) foreign ministers criticised Turkey for using migrants’ desperation “for political purposes.”
Greek riot police used tear gas and a water cannon in the morning to drive back people trying to cross its land border with Turkey. Turkish police fired volleys of tear gas back toward Greece in an ongoing standoff between Ankara and the EU over who should care for migrants and refugees.
Similar clashes erupted later on Friday, and fires were burning on the Turkish side of the border which Greek officials said were lit by migrants. At other times the area was calm.
Thousands of refugees and other migrants have been trying to get into EU member Greece in the past week after Turkey declared that its previously guarded borders with Europe were open.
Following months of threats, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that his country, which already houses more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, would no longer be Europe’s gatekeeper.
His move alarmed EU countries, which are still enduring political fallout from a wave of mass migration five years ago.
Greek authorities said they have thwarted more than 38,000 attempted border crossings in the past week, and arrested 268 people – mostly Afghans and only four per cent Syrians.
Erdogan has demanded that Europe shoulder more of the burden of caring for refugees. But the EU insists it is abiding by a 2016 deal in which it gave Turkey billions in refugee aid in return for keeping refugees on its soil.
Erdogan spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the phone on Friday, telling her the Turkey-EU migration deal is no longer working and needs to be revised, according to his office.
EU foreign ministers, meanwhile, met in Zagreb, Croatia on Friday to discuss the Greece-Turkey border situation and events in Syria, where Turkish troops are fighting. Erdogan has cited a potential new wave of refugees from Syria as part of his reasons for opening the border.
The ministers acknowledged Turkey’s role in hosting millions of migrants and refugees, but said the EU “strongly rejects Turkey’s use of migratory pressure for political purposes.
This situation at the EU external border is not acceptable.”