ATHENS - Greece is beefing up land patrols to stem a rising tide of illegal migrants trickling in from neighboring Turkey. With tensions between the two NATO allies at their highest in years, Athens fears Ankara may move to weaponize refugees, sparking a fresh migration crisis on top of a lingering energy dispute.
Greek authorities say they are mobilizing scores of special border guards to scour sprawling fields and marshland along the Evros region that divides Greece and Turkey.
Hundreds more will also be deployed on Greece’s Aegean islands to stop illegal sea crossings.
United Nations statistics show that illegal land entries into Greece from Turkey, have doubled in the last month alone, stoking concerns of a new migration crisis as tensions between the feuding countries have flared over energy rights in eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis explains the Greek position.
"We want Turkey to conform to agreements it has signed to stem the flow of illegal immigration," he said. "Any attempt to weaponize the suffering of refugees for geopolitical interests will not be tolerated."
Greece fended off a major migration push from Turkey earlier this year after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan temporarily lifted his country’s border controls, allowing refugees and migrants to make their way freely into Europe.
Greece claimed to have thwarted what it called “an enemy invasion” of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers into the country earlier this year and has kept its defenses on alert in the Evros region since then.
The border reinforcement also comes amid a flurry of media reports saying that Turkey was withdrawing 40 tanks from Syria, moving them instead to the Greek-Turkish border.
Turkey has not explained the deployment but Kostas Lavdas, a professor of international relations at Panteon University in Athens, says Greece must be ready for war.
It may be a simple rotation of forces, he said, because Turkey has several military fronts open. Regardless the reason, he said, Turkey has repeatedly shown that it wants to be ready for all scenarios relating to Greece, including war.
Greece, he said, may want to avoid that but it also needs to be prepared for it.
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated dangerously in the past month as Turkey has sent an exploration ship near a cluster of Greek islands, to hunt for undersea oil and gas in a patch of the eastern Mediterranean which Athens says only it has the right to survey.
Turkey rejects the claims, saying islands are not entitled to what is known as an exclusive economic zone …. Ankara instead believes it has the right to explore the oil and mineral rich East Mediterranean seabed after a recent maritime agreement it concluded with Libya.
Erdogan has agreed to engage in talks with Greece to over decades-old differences over air and sea rights but said this weekend he would do anything to defend his country’s interests.
He said, either Athens will heed to diplomacy or it will re-live bitter memories of war.
Greece has sought recourse with the United Nations, submitting what it called a bulky dossier of alleged violations by Turkey in recent weeks. The United Nations has made no response.