Nuray Pehlivan reports: Thousands of migrants who remain at Turkey’s borders in hopes of crossing over to Europe are now being told to leave the area due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ankara’s recent instructions about the coronavirus directly contradict their Feb. 28 decision that allowed migrants crossings, leaving them once again in limbo.
A lawmaker and human rights activist from the eastern province of Van said that immigration continues on the Iran border despite its official closure since Feb. 23, adding that the traffic might widen the spread of the coronavirus outbreak in Turkey. “They need to start placing incoming migrants under quarantine and inform the residents of border villages,” Turkey’s Human Rights Association Van Chair Murat Melet said.
Refugees in Istanbul have called on the authorities to act to protect migrants and refugees from coronavirus, saying that they were left to die amid the increasing number of cases. Speaking to Mesopotamia Agency, the refugees said that they took shelter in mosques since congregational prayers were suspended on March 16 to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
Turkish President Erdoğan on March 17 held a teleconference with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain. The quartet summit discussed the Syria crisis and migrant issue as well as joint action against coronavirus, Turkish presidency said.
Women and children migrants at Turkey's border with Greece protested the European Union's refusal to allow them entry in front of the Kastanies Border Gate on March 12. The group chanted slogans such as "Greece, open the gate" and "Help us" as they marched across the encampment where they have been waiting to leave Turkey since Feb. 28.
Turkey's Health Ministry has appointed a National Medical Rescue Team (UMKE) to conduct health screenings on the thousands of migrants at the Greek border. UMKE employees have begun to disinfect the encampment and check the temperatures of migrants with electronic and thermal devices.
The Greek Coast Guard said March 11 that one of its patrol boats was rammed by a Turkish Coast Guard vessel close to the island of Kos, amid heightened tensions between the two countries. Athens’ Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador in protest. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry also summoned Greek Ambassador to Ankara Michael-Christos Diamessis, calling on Greece "to end violations of the Turkish waters."
The Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) will be applying to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of migrants who were exposed to violence by Greek forces, TBB Chair Metin Feyzioğlu said March 11. Feyzioğlu visited the encampment near the Pazarkule Border Gate with a committee, where he said they collected evidence of maltreatment by Greece.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on March 10 that he was due to meet Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, French leader Emmanuel Macron and possibly U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a summit in Istanbul on March 17.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency has claimed that Greek police are digging a trench along the border and have placed fences along the Evros River, a relatively safe crossing for migrants. Migrants at the Turkey-Greece border have been exposed to tear gas and plastic bullets from both sides since Ankara's Feb. 28 decision to allow migrants to cross into the European Union.
Turkey said on March 10 a 2016 migration deal with the EU needs to be updated in light of the crisis in northern Syria. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that European Union visa liberalization and an update of the country's customs union with the bloc must be implemented to help solve the migrant issue.
Turkish and Greek academics both agree that Turkey, Greece and the European Union as a whole failed to fully abide by the 2016 migrant deal. While Greek academic Konstantinos Tsitselikes said the number of people who crossed into Europe was is closer to 1,000 rather than the 140,000 claimed by Ankara, Turkish academic Murat Erdoğan says the EU's refusal to accept the migrants is justified.
Around 300 migrants at Ankara's Akyurt Repatriation Center were transported to the border against their will on the night of Feb. 29, Ankara Bar Association's Migrant Rights Center Chair Sadık Onur Gelbal said on March 4. According to a migrant still in the center, only 7 migrants stayed in the center after resisting deportation. Attorneys have not been allowed to visit it.
HDP MP accuses parliament immigration committee chair of preventing deputies from talking to migrants
HDP lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said the chair of the parliament's Immigration and Integration Sub-Committee, Hakan Çavuşoğlu, prevented its members from interacting with the migrants whilst visiting the Pazarkule Border Gate on the Greek border. "He acted as if we were there on an excursion. We went to talk to people but were pressured to rush and make a statement to the press," he said.
One person was killed and five others were wounded when Greek police opened fire on migrants on the Turkish border. Speaking about the incident, Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said that the scene is a disgrace. "We asked the [Edirne] Governor's Office whether they distributed tents to people sleeping in the cold. They said, 'No.' People are in miserable conditions," he said.