Thousands of migrants head to Greece as Turkey opens floodgates

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Greece placed its borders on maximum security footing on Sunday after hundreds of migrants used porous crossing points to enter the country from Turkey, with thousands behind them seeking entry after Ankara relaxed curbs on their movement, Reuters reported.

At least 500 people had arrived by sea on three Greek islands close to the Turkish coast within a few hours on Sunday morning, police said.

On the mainland further north, migrants waded across a river to the Greek side at Kastanies. Reuters reporters saw groups of up to 30, including an Afghan mother with a five-day old infant, on the side of a road, having forded the river hours earlier.

Turkey said on Thursday it would no longer restrain hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in its territory from reaching Europe despite a deal to do so reached with the EU in 2016.

Turkey’s turnabout came after an airstrike killed 36 Turkish soldiers in neighboring northwest Syria where Ankara has deployed forces to help secure its border against a new influx of refugees from the Syrian civil war.

Turkey has said funds promised by the EU to help it deal with 3.7 million Syrian refugees already in the country has been slow to arrive; Ankara had threatened several times in the past to open the floodgates if it did not receive more support.

Its announcement that it had stopped containing migrants within the country triggered an almost instant rush to the borders it shares with European Union member Greece.

The crisis poses the toughest test for Greece since a 2015 financial crisis that saw it edge precariously close to bailing out of the euro zone, and, more ominously, brings into sharper focus long-standing tensions with Turkey.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was to chair a meeting of the national security council later on Sunday. An automated text message sent to mobile phones in the northern border areas of Greece said the country had increased its security to a maximum, urging people not to attempt to enter.

Greece’s Skai TV said Greeks had taken to using loudspeakers in the Kastanies border area to tell migrants, in English and Arabic “The borders are shut.”

A Greek government source put the number of people gathered on the border on Sunday at 3,000, while the International Organization for Migration estimated the number at 13,000.

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