Turkey claims to have let thousands of refugees cross the border with the EU. “We opened the (border) gates yesterday,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. By Saturday evening 36,776 migrants would have crossed the border to the EU via the province of Edirne, the Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Twitter.

In the province of Edirne, there are border crossings to Greece and Bulgaria. However, until the evening, neither Sofia nor Athens reported on the arrival of large numbers of migrants. On Saturday morning, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said after a crisis meeting that more than 4,000 illegal border crossings had been averted in the past 24 hours.

Greece is also strengthening its controls of the east Aegean islands with more than 50 Coast Guard and Navy ships, the spokesman said. “We kept our word and protected our borders, which are also EU borders.” Greece is determined to do everything possible to protect its and the EU border.

The EU has not kept its promises, Erdoğan criticized. Turkey cannot take care of so many refugees alone. The country has accepted more than 3.6 million refugees from Syria in recent years. A refugee pact with the EU in 2016 actually stipulates that Turkey is preventing migrants from entering the EU. In return, Ankara maintains financial support.

Turkish wave of attack against Syria

Erdogan had already threatened to open the border several times. The fact that he is now apparently serious is probably due to the developments in the Syrian-Turkish military conflict. Government officials in Athens said the Turkish president was instrumentalizing the millions of migrants in his country to force the EU to pay him more money so that he could continue his policies and military action in Syria. Greece has nothing to do with the war in Syria and will not pay the price, said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

On Thursday evening 36 Turkish soldiers died in an airstrike near Idlib. Ankara then asked for support in the conflict from NATO – and started to counterattack this Saturday. Turkey claims that it destroyed a chemical weapons plant in Syria’s Idlib province. A “facility to wage war with chemical weapons” and a “large number” of other targets of President Bashar al-Assad’s government have been destroyed, said a Turkish government official. President Erdogan confirmed this. Initially, there were no statements from the Syrian side. A UN resolution for an immediate ceasefire in Syria failed due to the blockade in Russia.

Idlib is the last major rebel area in the civil war country. Turkey supports Islamist rebels in the conflict. It had reached an agreement with Russia, the Syrian government’s protecting power, to set up a de-escalation zone in Idlib, and set up observation posts there. A ceasefire actually applies. In recent weeks, Syria has continued to advance in the area with Russian support.