Migrant Crisis Reaches Greek Border, Bringing European Union Leaders There EU leaders went to the border of Greece and Turkey on Tuesday to stand with Greeks in the latest immigration crisis.

Migrant Crisis Reaches Greek Border, Bringing European Union Leaders There

Migrant Crisis Reaches Greek Border, Bringing European Union Leaders There

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EU leaders went to the border of Greece and Turkey on Tuesday to stand with Greeks in the latest immigration crisis.


The European Union's top leaders were in Greece today, promising to guard the EU's border with Turkey. Thousands of migrants are waiting on the Turkish side to enter Europe, but Greece is refusing to let them pass, and Greece has suspended asylum requests for anyone who slips through. Joanna Kakissis reports.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Greek).

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was flanked by the EU's top brass at a packed press conference in the border town of Kastanies. On the other side of this town are thousands of migrants who were told by Turkey last Friday that the path to Europe is open. They want in. Mitsotakis has done everything he can to keep them out.


PRIME MINISTER KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS: We are sending a very, very clear signal that migrants and refugees cannot be used as instruments, as pawns in a geopolitical game. They are the true victims of these types of policies. If Europe is to protect its citizens, it needs to be able to protect its borders.

KAKISSIS: EU leaders see migration as a destabilizing issue. They do not want a repeat of 2015, when European nationalists used the arrival of more than a million asylum-seekers to divide the bloc. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised unity this time around.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN: Now is the time for concerted action and cool heads and acting based on our values. Turkey is not an enemy, and people are not just means to reach a goal.

KAKISSIS: The goal she is referring to is Turkey's desire to get stronger European support on migration. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is worried that the recent fighting around Idlib in northern Syria will bring even more refugees into his country.


PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) We have been hosting 4 million refugees for years, and now there'll be another 1.5 million on our border. Months ago, I said, if the West does not share this burden, we will open the doors.

KAKISSIS: Turkey was instrumental in drastically reducing the number of refugees landing in Europe after 2016. The EU promised Turkey billions of euros to care for migrants, but funding for that program has run out. Now the European Union is giving Greece up to 700 million euros to manage migration at Europe's own doorstep. That includes improving conditions at migrant camps on the Greek islands. But there is concern that Greek public opinion about migrants has swerved from welcoming in 2015 to openly racist and violent today.



KAKISSIS: On the island of Lesvos, the angry residents in this video are shown yelling at migrants who are trying to land onshore. They're telling them to go back to Turkey.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: And in one particularly disturbing video shared on social media, Greek coast guard vessels are seen encircling an inflatable raft packed with terrified migrants. The Greeks prod them with rods, pushing them away as they scream. At one point, a sailor fires his weapon near their boat.


KAKISSIS: Watching all this has made Eva Cosse of Human Rights Watch physically ill.

EVA COSSE: So this needs to stop immediately, and it needs to happen with condemnation from the highest levels of the government.

KAKISSIS: Unless the EU makes it clear that asylum-seekers will be treated with respect and humanity, she says, it cannot call itself a beacon of human rights.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.


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