The border between Greece and Turkey is becoming increasingly militarised, with heavily armed personnel from either side continuing to pour into the region as illegal migrants seek to punch through the European Union’s common external border with Turkish president’s blessing.
Greece is well-accustomed to having its airspace and territorial waters violated hundreds or even thousands of times a year by its much larger neighbour — a NATO ally, on paper — which makes a number of claims on Greek islands and other border territories.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to “open the gates” to Europe on his side of the frontier — and the Greek government’s decision to hold fast, in contrast to its stance in 2015 — has heightened tensions enormously, with the Turks accused of having an active role in transporting migrants to the border, co-ordinating their attempts to breach it, and even arming them with tear gas to attack Greek border forces.
These have been heavily reinforced by the Greek armed forces, who the Turks, in turn, have accused of firing on and even killing migrants.
Turkish armed forces are extremely active in the region as well, facing down their Greek counterparts through border fencing and across the Evros river, as well as putting special forces patrol boats into the water.
As the Turkish police have been accused of firing tear gas on Greek border guards to support attempts by migrants to break through — accusations seemingly supported by video evidence — so Turkish soldiers have now been accused of firing directly at the Greeks, greatly increasing the chances of a deadly incident on the embattled frontier.
Reinforcements for the Greek border guards pledged by some of the European Union’s more pro-borders member-states, including Austria, Poland, and Cyprus, have also begun to arrive in theatre.
Photographs published by the Associated Press show heavily armoured Austrian police special forces vehicles are now present in the region, along with personnel operating surveillance drones near the village of Dadia.
The European Union’s rhetorical support for the Greek government’s robust action to prevent an influx on the scale of 2015-16, which has included suspending all asylum applications and turning back migrants who do reach Greek territory, may be beginning to fade, however.
Ylva Johansson, the European Commission responsible for migration, said of a meeting with the Greeks: “We are going to discuss actually what they are doing, but they have to let people apply for asylum.”
The Swedish social democrat suggested that the Greek government was breaking EU law, regardless of its claims to have activated a clause in the EU treaties allowing it to bar migrants — “Individuals in the European Union have the right to apply for asylum. This is in the treaty, this is in international law. This we can’t suspend,” she said.