Greek police fire teargas after Turkey lets refugees exit towards Europe

Greek police have fired teargas at hundreds of refugees who have gathered on its border with Turkey.

Greece has vowed to ‘keep migrants out’ after its neighbour said it would no longer abide by a deal to stop them reaching the EU.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Greece had ‘faced an organised, mass and illegal attempt to violate its borders and it withstood this attempt.’

He added: ‘The government will do whatever it takes to protect its borders.’

Turkey has said it will no longer contain asylum seekers after an air strike on war-ravaged Idlib in Syria killed 33 of its soldiers.

The incident sparked fears of a major escalation involving Turkey and Syria’s military ally, Russia.

Almost immediately after Turkey’s announcement, convoys of people appeared to be heading towards the Greek land and sea borders.

The majority are from Afghanistan and most are men, although there were some women and children.

The Greek authorities say they have stopped some 4,000 people crossing the border at Pazarkule in the past 24 hours and said the decision by its neighbour ‘has nothing to do with Idlib.’

Overnight refugees and the authorities played a game of cat-and-mouse as migrants attempted to sneak past them in search of a new life in the EU.

Police in the buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish border posts said demonstrators had hurled flaming pieces of wood at them.

Teargas was then fired to keep them back, the authorities claimed.

The coastguard said that some 180 refugees had reached the islands of Eastern Aegean, Lesbos and Samos in sea crossings.

Many had set sail from Turkey and eyewitnesses said many of them were women who wept and prayed on their knees when they touched dry land.

Most of them were from sub-Saharan Africa and would have travelled overland for months even years in an attempt to reach the EU.

Others attempted to reach Greece by crossing the Evros river, including many young children in their parents’ arms.

Turkey currently also hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees but a military escalation in Idlib province has seen hundreds of thousands more Syrian civilians having to flee.

The mass displacement has raised the possibility that Turkey will come under renewed pressure to open its sealed border with Syria and offer refuge to desperate civilians struggling in the bitter winter.

On Saturday, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country’s borders with the EU – notably Greece and Bulgaria – were open.

He said: ‘We can’t handle a new wave of migration.

‘The European Union has to keep its promises. We are not obliged to look after and feed so many refugees.’

Under a six billion euro deal in 2016, Turkey agreed to stem the tide of refugees to Europe in return for financial aid.

But Erdogan has accused the EU of failing to keep its promises, claiming that funds were too slow to arrive.

The opening of the borders marks a dramatic departure from current policy and is an apparent attempt to pressure the EU and Nato to act over the escalating Syrian conflict.

Since seizing territory from Kurdish forces in a different part of Syria in October, Mr Erdogan has also suggested resettling at least a million Syrian refugees from Turkey in that region.

However, his efforts to secure funding for such a scheme have been rejected by European governments.

Aid groups have said it is still too dangerous to return refugees to Syria.

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