ATHENS — Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday said asylum seekers had pulled back from the border with Turkey, with reports citing coronavirus fears as the reason.
“Apparently, the makeshift camp that had been created after (March 1) has been dismantled and those who were at the Evros border have moved away,” Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting via teleconference.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu on Thursday said that 4,600 migrants were still waiting in the border area of Kastanies, known as Pazarkule in Turkey.
On Thursday evening, the asylum seekers were evacuated by bus to facilities where they will be quarantined for two weeks to make sure they have not been infected with the new coronavirus, Turkish news agency DHA reported.
Turkish authorities dismantled the makeshift camp in Pazarkule after the migrants left, DHA said, adding that the evacuation was carried out “at the migrants’ request”.
State TV ERT said that Turkish police had set fire to the camp before leaving.
Mitsotakis on Friday said the move would not alter Greece’s plans to bolster its border fence.
“A chapter may be closing, but have no doubt that this battle continues,” the PM told ministers, according to his office.
“(There is a need) to strengthen the fence and reorganize forces without complacency,” the PM’s office said.
Tens of thousands of asylum seekers tried to break through the land border from Turkey after Ankara at the end of February announced it would no longer prevent people from trying to cross into the European Union.
For days, there were skirmishes on the border as migrants trying to break through threw stones at Greek riot police who fired tear gas at them.
Turkish police also bombarded Greek forces with tear gas at regular intervals, and Athens accused Turkish police of handing out wire cutters to migrants to help them break through the fence.
Hundreds of asylum seekers also landed on the five Greek islands near Turkey where there are already over 36,000 migrants and refugees in overcrowded, unhygienic camps.
After Mitsotakis invited EU leaders to witness the situation, 100 officers from EU border agency Frontex were sent to the land border.
“It is important to have a regular (EU) presence on Evros and the islands,” the PM’s office said Friday.
Ankara accused Athens of beating migrants and firing live rounds at them, alleging that several people died of bullet injuries.
The Greek government categorically denied using undue force.