Turkey backs down at Greek border – NYT

Migrants at the Greek-Turkish land border began to be transported back to Istanbul by bus this week, indicating that Turkey is stepping back its efforts to help migrants cross the border, said the New York Times on Friday.

The move was interpreted by some analysts as signals to Europe that the Turkish authorities were eager to ease the standoff, and could be prepared to again police their borders.

Greek officials said the number of attempted border crossings had dwindled from thousands a day to a few hundred, and none were successful on Friday. 

Turkey in late February announced it would no longer prevent migrants trying to reach Europe. The move was perceived as an attempt drum up more European Union aid for the four million refugees inside Turkey, and to rally European support for Turkey’s military campaign in Idlib, Syria.

Turkish authorities transported some migrants to the border, encouraged and cajoled others to cross, and used tactics to aid their crossing – such as firing tear gas towards Greek border guards.

Greece has received criticism for suspending asylum applications and illegally detaining and returning some migrants to Turkey.

The confrontation at the border has strained relations between Turkey and the European Union, said the New York Times. 

The ordeal was “the first-ever refugee exodus, albeit a limited one, fully organized by one government against another,” Marc Pierini, a former European Union envoy to Turkey, told the New York Times.

“The problem is that because of the blackmail used by Turkey, getting an agreement from the European Council is going to be more difficult,” said Pierini, who is currently an analyst for Carnegie Europe, a research organisation. 

In 2016 the EU pledged to pay 6 billion euros to help support refugees in Turkey, in exchange for Turkey’s cooperation in securing its Greek border, but Ankara says the money has been slow in coming. 

At a meeting in Brussels this week, EU leaders discussed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan whether the agreement would be restored and extended.

Ian Lesser, the vice president of the German Marshall Fund, told the New York Times that lasting damage could have been done to the relationship between Greece and Turkey, in awkward co-existence since the mid-1990s, when the two countries came close to war.

“Greek-Turkish détente has been one of the cornerstones of geostrategic relations in the southeastern Mediterranean - and the potential of this collapsing is alarming to the region and Western allies,” said Lesser.