Thousands gather at Turkish border to cross into Greece

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The UN has said 13,000 people have gathered to cross into Greece from Turkey following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s vow to keep his western border open to migrants and refugees seeking to travel into the EU.

As the situation escalates, Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, called a meeting of his national security council for Sunday evening. The EU’s border protection agency, Frontex, said it was on high alert and had deployed extra support to Greece.

“We … have raised the alert level for all borders with Turkey to high,” a spokeswoman said. “We have received a request from Greece for additional support. We have already taken steps to redeploy to Greece technical equipment and additional officers.”

Erdoğan opened his western border on Friday after an airstrike on Thursday night in Syria’s Idlib province killed at least 33 Turkish soldiers recently deployed to support the Syrian opposition.

The Turkish president had repeatedly said he would break his country’s deal with Brussels to prevent migrants entering the EU unless he received greater support for his intervention in Syria.

The UN’s international organisation for migration said on Sunday that by the previous evening at least 13,000 people had gathered at the formal border crossing points at Pazarkule and Ipsala, among others, in groups of between several dozen and more than 3,000.

Erdoğan said in a speech on Saturday that he had no intention of rethinking his decision. “What did we say? If this continues, we will be forced to open the doors,” he told a meeting of the ruling Justice and Development party.

“They did not believe what we said. What did we do yesterday? We opened our border. The number of people crossing the doors to Europe reached around 18,000 by Saturday morning, but today the number could reach 25 or even 30,000, and we will not close the passages during the period to come.”

The EU has said it expects Ankara to abide by a €6bn (£5.2bn) deal signed in 2016, under which Turkey agreed to halt the flow of people to the EU in return for funds. Turkey hosts about 3.6 million refugees from Syria.

The European council president, Charles Michel, spoke to Erdoğan on Saturday. “The EU is actively engaged to uphold the EU-Turkey statement and to support Greece and Bulgaria to protect the EU’s external borders,” he said in a statement.

Greek security forces had fired teargas and stun grenades on Saturday to block more than 4,000 people at the crossing in Kastanies.

Greece’s deputy Defence minister, Alkiviadis Stefanis, told the local broadcaster Skai there were about 9,600 attempts to cross illegally on Saturday evening.

More than 500 migrants reached Greece’s eastern Aegean islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios on Sunday. At least seven vessels with more than 300 people onboard had reached Lesbos, an official said. A further 150 people had reached Samos.