Greece braces for increasing migrants from neighbouring Turkey as ties worsen

Greece is stepping up preparations for a possible increase in migrants reaching the Aegean islands from neighbouring Turkey at a time of deteriorating ties between the two countries, the Guardian reported on Monday.

The Greek Migration Ministry is setting up extra camps on all islands in the Aegean, it said, citing the migration ministry’s general secretary in charge of asylum seekers’ reception, Manos Logothetis.

The camps “will also act as quarantine areas given the risk of Covid-19,” Logothetis said.

Over the weekend two boats carrying 90 migrants, women and children among them, reached the shores of Greek Lesbos, in the fifth such incident this month despite migratory flows dropping dramatically in 2020, according to the Guardian report.

“The weather is optimal for crossings and the concern now very real that Turkey may once again use these people as an instrument to exert pressure on Europe and Greece,” according to Logothetis.

Over the weekend, Greek police arrested six people allegedly involved in smuggling refugees.

Greece’s concern over migrants arrives amid soaring tensions between Ankara and Athens.

In March, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened the European Union to release refugees into Greek lands and sea frontiers to pass to Europe, prompting thousands to gather at Turkey’s northwestern frontier.

Turkey is locked in disputes with Greece over territorial waters in the Aegean and Mediterranean. Turkey has sent ships to drill for gas off Cyprus to press its claim to the waters there.

Erdoğan´s decision last week to convert Istanbul´s Hagia Sophia – built as a Byzantine cathedral in the 6th century - into a mosque has also sparked anger in Greece.

“Greek-Turkish relations are going through one of their roughest ever periods and day after day, month after month, they are getting worse,” Pavlos Tsimas, a political commentator, told the Guardian.

“A military clash is not impossible or improbable,” Tsimas said adding if Turkey steps up Athens would be forced to respond.