Turkey signals more tension with Greece over migrants, saying border is open

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has signalled that more tension is to come with Greece after he said that Turkey will maintain its open-door border policy for migrants and refugees to cross over into Europe, Greek newspaper Kathimerini said.

“Anyone who wants to can go to Europe, we do not prevent it,” Çavuşoğlu said in comments to Turkey’s Akit TV.

Çavuşoğlu also denounced what he described as Greece’s “inhumane” behaviour toward migrants seeking to cross into the country. “The West’s non-reaction to Greece’s inhumane behaviour at the border is an unacceptable situation,” he said.

Turkey has criticised Greece for suspending asylum applications and deploying violence against migrants trying to cross. A report this month by Sky News and several open-source investigators found that the bullet which killed a migrant at the border in March likely came from the Greek side of the border.

Greece has accused Turkey of encouraging and coordinating the attempted crossings and of firing tear gas over the border.

Çavuşoğlu’s remarks to Akit TV have increased concern in Greece, which has been strengthening its resources at its Evros land border in anticipation of another possible migrant surge from Turkey similar to the one in February and March, when thousands of people attempted to cross into Greece.

Turkey announced in late February it would no longer prevent migrants from trying to reach Europe. The move was perceived as an attempt to drum up more European Union aid for the roughly four million refugees inside Turkey, and to rally European support for Turkey’s military campaign in Idlib, Syria.

Against this backdrop, tensions between Turkey and Greece have also been growing over recent weeks due to a dispute over gas exploration rights off the coast of Cyprus, and Turkish violations of Greek airspace. 

Turkey conducted more violations of Greek airspace on Wednesday with a pair of F-16s flying over the eastern Aegean islet of Farmakonisi, Kathimerini said.

Earlier this month, Greece accused Turkish fighter jets of harassing a helicopter carrying Greek Defence Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos.

Turkey's violation of Greek airspace and territorial waters in the Aegean Sea sharply increased in 2019, especially over the last months of the year. 

"The number of violations of Greek national airspace by Turkish military aircraft reached 4,811 in 2019, the largest number in one calendar year since 1987. There were 384 mock dogfights between Greek and Turkish fighter jets last year, while there were only 13 such fights in 2010," a report by the Hellenic National Defence General Staff said in January.