ATHENS - Clashes have flared up again in northeastern Greece as authorities there try to stem the flow of migrants pouring in from Turkey, after the Turkish government opened its border last week. Greek police have been using tear gas, water cannon, and stun grenades to push back the border crossers, and Turkey is accusing Greek forces of shooting and killing at least four migrants – a charge Greece denies.
Greek authorities say they have pushed back more than 30,000 migrants since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would open his country’s borders to western Europe Feb. 28.
His decision follows a deadly airstrike in Syria that killed 33 Turkish soldiers in the region of Idlib, unleashing a fresh deluge of refugees into Turkey.
Erdogan has repeatedly warned the international community that he can no longer continue to shoulder the burden of hosting growing number of migrants. And as Europe is not willing to share that burden, Erdogan says, the Turkish president has opened the borders to allow all asylum seekers then to flee westward.
Greek authorities have made no secret of their resolve and even their use of aggressive tactics to block illegal crossings. But the government in Athens is denying accusations of deadly attacks on migrants – a charge Erdogan himself has made.
Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas categorically denies the allegation, which he said is all part of what he described as a fake news campaign that seems to have no end.
Independent sources have not been able to confirm the alleged shootings.
But the incident is indicative of a massive propaganda war unfolding on both sides of the border.
Since the start of the clashes, Greek media have released footage showing Turkish police appearing to use migrants as human shields and firing stun grenades into Greece.
Greek media have also put out videos showing freshly-released prisoners leading protests from the Turkish side, blaming Erdogan for orchestrating the tension.
Turkish authorities have since then circulated fresh video showing one migrant killed and others injured from rubber bullets fired from the Greek side.
Petsas, who accused Turkey of launching a propaganda campaign, said it is all being carefully organized and choreographed by the Turkish government.
Even so, critics fear some of the urgent measures Greece has now enforced maybe hitting the bounds of international law. These include violent pushbacks of refugees and Athens’ decision to stop processing asylum claims for at least a month.
Human rights watchdogs and critics now fear far-right vigilante groups may exploit the draconian security measures and take the situation into their own hands.
On the island of Lesbos, residents have been blocking migrants’ vessels from docking. And in the north, local and foreign media have documented locals patrolling behind police with rifles in hand, looking for migrants.