Turkey opens border to EU for Syrian refugees

Refugees in Turkey headed towards European frontiers on Friday after an official declared that borders had been thrown open, a response to the escalating war in Syria where 33 Turkish soldiers were killed by Russian-backed Syrian government troops.

Moscow and Ankara traded blame over the strike in northwest Syria, the deadliest attack suffered by Turkey’s army in nearly 30 years. The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting to avert open conflict between Russia and NATO member Turkey.

Greece and Bulgaria reinforced their borders in response to Turkey’s threat to reopen the frontier, shut under an agreement that halted the migration crisis of 2015-2016, when more than a million people crossed into Europe by foot.

We have decided, effective immediately, not to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe by land or sea, a senior Turkish official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
All refugees, including Syrians, are now welcome to cross into the European Union, the official said, adding that police and border guards had been stood down.

Within hours, a column of dozens of migrants was heading on foot towards the European frontier in the early morning light.

We heard about it on the television, said Afghan migrant Sahin Nebizade, 16, in a group packed into taxis on a highway.

At the Pazarkule border post with Greece, scores of migrants faced barbed wire fences and smoke grenades. Some stuck in the no-man’s land between the two countries tried to return to the Turkish side to escape the smoke, only to be turned back.

Hamid Muhammed, who carried a young girl, said he had been turned back by Greek police: 

We want the Turkish and European governments to open this gate.

Greece’s prime minister said no unauthorised crossing would be allowed. Bulgaria’s prime minister said the prospect of a new migration crisis was even more of a threat when European countries were struggling to respond to the coronavirus.

The EU and the United Nations refugee agency noted that reports of a change in Turkish policy at the border were still unofficial and Ankara had not made any formal announcement.


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