ATHENS - Greece is mobilizing forces to boost defenses along its land frontiers with Turkey. The move as Turkey threatens to resume the flow of thousands of migrants to Europe through Greece. The deployment also follows plans by Greece to expand its border fence in the contentious border region.
Officials in Athens say they are deploying more than 400 specially trained officers, including riot police, in the northeast region of Evros.
The deployment on Wednesday adds to the eleven hundred officers already in the area. An additional 800 are expected arrive in the coming weeks as Greece ratchets up plans, as Defense Minister Nikos Papagiotopoulos says to defend itself from Turkey’s actions by extending an existing border fence.
Soldiers and police in the region remain on a code-red alert, he says.
Greece is reinforcing its defenses by expanding the fence because, officials say, it does not want to be caught by surprise if Turkey makes any sudden moves.
While both are NATO allies, relations between the two neighbor states have plummeted to a low point since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the borders to millions of refugees trapped in his country, allowing them free access to Europe through Greece.
The move turned the border region of Evros into a dangerous flashpoint as Greece — already inundated with more than 100,000 refugees — was left pushing back what its leaders called a massive migrant invasion in February.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey closed its borders and ordered migrants back into closed reception centers.
But as lockdown measures are now relaxing across Europe and beyond, Turkey's foreign minister said yesterday that migrants and refugees in his country may as well be preparing to make the move anew to Europe — a remark that alarmed officials in Athens.
Greece is now scrambling to seal its land border in the Evros region, tripling the size of an existing 12-kilometer fence — a move that has annoyed Ankara.
Conservative lawmaker Tassos Hadjivassiliou explains why.
"It's a no-brainer," he said. "Once this fence goes up, Turkey will be severely compromised of its ability to push through migrants. And if that happens, then Ankara will have lost its most powerful tool of leverage against Europe... and its chances, therefore, of clinching a new deal with Brussels, plus added financial support will fade."
Ankara’s deteriorating economy and political pressure on Erdogan leadership underpin much of these crisis fears.
Hostility between Greece and Turkey has risen noticeably in the Aegean recently.
Over the weekend, dozens of Turkish soldiers moved to block Greek soldiers from surveying marshland along the Evros river to extend the fence.
Local media and residents said they spotted troops inching into Greek territory and camping out on Greek soil — a move that enraged Athens, which lodged a protest with Ankara but later denied that any Turkish soldiers had set foot on Greek soil.
"There were many suspicious movements at the time," Panagiotopoulos told a local broadcaster late Wednesday.
He refused to elaborate.
Human rights experts in Greece warn that migrants are paying the toll in the latest Greek-Turkish spat, remaining trapped in overcrowded camps and in continued lockdown.