Turkey has flung open the doors to Europe hours after Ankara vowed to stop blocking migrants from reaching the continent – as Greece is forced to teargas huge crowds on their borders.
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said the country will not tolerate any illegal entries of migrants through its borders and will increase its border security.
Migrants and refugees started gathering at the Greek-Turkish land border after Turkey warned that it would let out thousands of refugees stuck in the country since a 2016 accord between Ankara and the European Union.
In a Tweet Mitsotakis said Greece ‘does not bear any responsibility for the tragic events in Syria and will not suffer the consequences of decisions taken by others.’
Migrants wait in no-mans land between Turkey and Greece, in Pazarkule, Edirne, on Friday
A woman screams as Greek border guards use tear gas to disperse hundreds of irregular migrants waiting at Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece in Edirne, Turkey
Early Friday, Turkish broadcaster NTV showed images of dozens of people – carrying rucksacks, suitcases and plastic bags – crossing fields towards the Greek frontier.
Near the Pazarkule border crossing with Greece, Turkish police stopped some 150 refugees about 1 kilometer (half a mile) from the border, preventing them from going further.
A Greek police official said dozens of people had gathered on the Turkish side of the land border in Greece’s Evros region, shouting ‘open the borders.’ Police and military border patrols on the Greek side readied to prevent people crossing without authorization.
Turkey will no longer block the refugees trying to get to Europe after 33 of its soldiers were killed in a Syrian government airstrike in Idlib overnight.
Britain on Friday condemned the Damascus regime and Russia for waging a ‘reckless and brutal’ assault in the battleground Syrian province of Idlib, where the 33 died.
Thursday’s attack ‘only confirmed the reckless and brutal nature of the offensive which the Syrian regime and Russia are conducting in Idlib,’ Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said, adding that London will push for tighter sanctions against Damascus.
Greek police used smoke grenades at one border crossing, while Bulgaria sent an extra 1,000 troops to its border with Turkey.
Early Friday, Turkish broadcaster NTV showed images of dozens of people – carrying rucksacks, suitcases and plastic bags – crossing fields towards the Greek frontier
Refugees walk near fences on the Greek border as they try to enter Europe, in Edirne, Turkey
Police, coastguard and border security officials have been instructed to stand down and allow people access to European borders by land and sea, the official added.
Turkey appears to be trying to pressure European leaders to intervene and help its military halt a Syrian government offensive in Idlib province.
On Friday, NATO held talks on the situation in Syria at Turkey’s request – offering solidarity and support, but no new measures to curb the violence.
Turkey will no longer stop refugees crossing its territory towards Europe after 33 of its soldiers were killed in a Syrian government airstrike overnight, an official has said
Groups of migrants were pictured making their way through Edime, in western Turkey, towards the borders with Bulgaria and Greece early on Friday
Hundreds of refugees were pictured crossing Turkey on the way to Greece and Bulgaria overnight Thursday and Friday morning
Police, border officials and coastguard have all been instructed to stand aside and allow refugees to cross the country towards Europe
A man carrying a child makes his way across Turkey towards border crossings with Greece and Bulgaria on Friday morning
‘NATO allies provide support for Turkey today. We augment their air defences, we have an AWACS plane helping to patrol the skies and we also have port visits and provide support in other ways,’ leader Jens Stoltenberg said.
‘But allies are constantly looking into what more they can do to provide further support for Turkey.’
A spokesman for the Turkish presidency earlier called for a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Idlib.
The Idlib offensive, which is being carried out with Russian backing, threatens to spark a refugee crisis on the Turkish border as millions of civilians risk being indiscriminately targeted in bombings and airstrikes.
Idlib is currently home to some four million people, many of them displaced by fighting elsewhere in the country and living in tent cities along Turkey’s border.
Stoltenberg condemned both Russia and Damascus over the attacks, and urged them to end the violence.
Turkish media published images of hundreds of refugees crossing its territory on the way to Greece and Bulgaria overnight.
By Friday morning some of those had landed in boats on the Greek island of Lesbos, where they were put on to coaches and taken to camps on the island.
A group of 300 people – including Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Moroccans – were pictured crossing Turkish territory.
Turkey struck an agreement with European leaders to halt the flow of migrants through its territory in 2016, but now appears ready to renege on that pledge
By Friday morning some of the refugees – including Iraqis, Afghanis, Syrians and Iranians – had landed on the Greek island of Lesbos
Turkey appears to be trying to pressure European leaders to intervene on its side as it tries to stop a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in Idlib
A child cries as he arrives at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey with other refugees
A dinghy with 15 Afghan refugees, 5 children, 3 women and 7 men, approaches the Greek island of Lesbos early Friday
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to open the gates for migrants to travel to Europe.
If it did so, it would reverse a pledge Turkey made to the European Union in 2016.
EU leaders said on Friday that they expect Turkey to uphold its commitments under the previous agreement.
Stotenberg said Friday’s talks would be held under Article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty, which allows any ally to request consultations if it feels its territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.
The air strike by Syrian government forces marks the largest death toll for Turkey in a single day since it first intervened in Syria in 2016.
Turkish media was awash with pictures of refugees headed to the border on Friday, in an attempt to put pressure on European leaders
Refugees cross a river in Turkey as they make their way towards eastern Europe on Friday
Refugees making their way across a field towards Europe via Turkey on Friday
It’s a major escalation in a conflict between Turkish and Russia-backed Syrian forces that has raged since early February.
At least 54 Turkish troops have now been killed in Idlib.
Apart from providing some aerial surveillance over Syria, NATO plays no direct role in the conflict-torn country, but its members are deeply divided over Turkey’s actions.
Turkey’s invasion of the north of the conflict-torn country – along with the criticism and threats of sanctions brandished by fellow allies at Ankara over the offensive – has come close to sparking a crisis at the military alliance.
France in particular has tried to launch debate on what Turkey’s allies should do if Ankara requests their assistance under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – which requires all allies to come to the defense of another member under attack.
That discussion has not happened.
The US has demanded that both Syria and Russia end their ‘despicable’ offensive in eastern Syria, but also wants no direct involvement.
33 Turkish soldiers were killed in a Syrian government airstrike in Idlib late Thursday, the largest one-day death toll for Turkish forces since they intervened in the region in 2016
Turkey-backed Syrian fighters ride a tank in the town of Saraqib in the eastern part of the Idlib province in northwestern Syria
Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar speaks to ground commanders about the situation in Idlib on Friday morning
Turkish backed rebel fighters fire a howitzer toward Syrian government’s forces positions near the village of Neirab in Idlib province
In a statement a US representative said: ‘We stand by our NATO ally Turkey and continue to call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces,’ a State Department spokesperson said.
‘We are looking at options on how we can best support Turkey in this crisis.’
The United Nations also called for urgent action in the northwest of Syria.
Stephane Dujarric said: ‘The Secretary-General reiterates his call for an immediate ceasefire and expresses particular concern about the risk to civilians from escalating military actions.
‘Without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour.’
Idlib is supposed to be a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are meant to be prohibited.
The zone is currently home to four million civilians, many had already been displaced by regime forces in the war torn country.
More than 1.7 million Syrians moved to the Turkish border due to intense attacks.
A wounded child is seen on a stretcher at a hospital for treatment after Assad regime attacks in residential area in Idlib
An internally displaced Syrian girl steps up the stairs in an IDP camp located in Idlib
Internally displaced Syrians are seen in an IDP camp located in Idlib earlier today
Tents housing internally displaced people in Atma camp in Idlib Governorate of Syria are seen on the Syrian side of the border zone near the Turkish village of Bukulmez