Tear gas fired from both sides as migrants bid to cross Turkey-Greece border

By Mystislav Chernov and Suzan Fraser, Associated Press

Fresh clashes have erupted at Turkey’s land border with Greece after Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government said it will no longer prevent migrants from crossing over to EU territory.

Greece has deployed riot police and border guards to repel people trying to enter the country from the sea or by land.

A statement from Mr Erdogan’s office on Saturday said he would travel to Brussels on March 9, though the nature of his visit – to the city where the EU is based – was not specified.

That announcement came hours after European Union foreign ministers meeting in Croatia on Friday criticised Turkey, saying it is using the migrants’ desperation “for political purposes”.

Migrants try to damage the border fence between Turkey and Greece (Felipe Dana/AP)

More clashes erupted on Saturday between Greek police and Europe-bound migrants gathered on the Turkey side of a border crossing near the Greek village of Kastanies.

Like previous confrontations this week, officers in Greece fired tear gas to impede the crowd and Turkish police fired tear gas back at their Greek counterparts.

Journalists saw groups of mostly young men trying to pull down a fence with ropes and throwing rocks at the Greek border forces. At least two migrants were injured.

A Greek government statement issued on Saturday said around 600 people, aided by Turkish army and military police, threw tear gas at the Greek side of the border overnight.

There were several attempts to breach the border fence, and fires were lit in an attempt to damage the barrier.

The statement said: “Attempts at illegal entry into Greek territory were prevented by Greek forces, which repaired the fence and used sirens and loudspeakers.”

A Turkish soldier walks near migrants as they gather at a fence on the border with Greece (Darko Bandic/AP)

Thousands of migrants have slept in makeshift camps near the border since the Turkish government said they were free to go, waiting for the opportunity to cut over to Greece.

Mahmood Mohammed, 34, who identified himself as a refugee from Syria’s embattled Idlib province, said: “It is very difficult, but there is hope, God willing.”

Another man who also identified himself as from Idlib said he was camped out in western Turkey both to get away from the war at home and to make a new life for his family in Europe or Canada after crossing through the border gate.

Mr Erdogan announced last week that Turkey, which already houses more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, would no longer be Europe’s gatekeeper and declared that its previously guarded borders with Europe are now open.

He has demanded that Europe shoulders 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 Europe-bound asylum-seekers on its soil.