EU foreign affairs chief says Greece-Turkey border is a ‘closed door’

The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, told migrants from Turkey not to go to Greece after clashes with police along the border.

Migrants clash with Greek security forces near the closed-off Greek-Turkish border in Kastanies while tear gas are thrown from both sides, Orestiada, Greece, on Saturday.

Borell, speaking Friday after a Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Syria in Zagreb, Croatia, said he wanted to “send a clear message” that the border was not open to avoid any escalation in violence.

“The border is not open,” he said. “If someone tells you that you can go because the border is open, that you can go freely to Europe through Greece or through Cyprus, that is not true. Avoid a situation in which you could be in danger. Avoid the escalation of the crisis. Avoid moving towards a closed door.”

Migrants traveled toward the border this week after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the borders open on Feb. 28. He did so in response to a Syrian government airstrike that killed dozens of Turkish soldiers.

The Turkish coast guard said Saturday it will no longer allow migrants to enter Greece from the Aegean Sea because it’s unsafe. The agency said it wouldn’t intervene with migrants otherwise. Greek coast guard boats have recently been seen forcing migrant vessels back. Turkey’s coast guard said it rescued 97 migrants Thursday, accusing Greek authorities of having “flattened three boats and left them in a half-sinking state.”

Turkey, which has nearly 4 million migrants, mostly fleeing the conflict in Syria, has hosted the largest number of asylum-seekers of any country in the world, according to the World Economic Forum.

In a 2016 deal, Turkey said it would stop allowing migrants to reach the European Union in return for EU funds to help it manage the refugees its hosts. But Ankara was not impressed last week with the EU’s aid and decided to open its borders with Greece.

Erdogan said Europe has violated its moral values to alleviate human suffering. He said the European Union would join Ankara in thwarting Russian-backed forces in Syria’s Idlib if it was serious about resolving the migration problem.

Turkish Interior Minister Soleyman Soylu encouraged migrants to cross anywhere they could along the border this week and said Ankara would deploy 1,000 special forces to prevent push back amid clashes where tear gas was used.

However, Borrell said the “alleged openness” of the Greek-Turkish border was “false.”

“If we want to avoid critical situations, people have to know the truth,” Borrell added.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Turkey of using migrants for political purposes, but Borrell said Friday that this would not work.

“Encouraging refugees and migrants to attempt illegal crossing into the EU is not an acceptable way for Turkey to push for further support from the European Union,” Borrell said.

BySommer Brokaw