Migrants head to Greece while Turkey opens floodgates

KASTANIAS/LESBOS: Immigrants arrived across the permeable borders to Greece from Turkey on Sunday, while thousands of people gathered at the country's border seeking to enter after Ankara relaxed restrictions on their movement.

At first glance, dozens of people in three boats headed to the Aegean island of Lesbos, a Reuters witness said. Further north, the groups crossed a river in Kastanies on the shared border.

There was tension in Kastanies on Saturday after riot police used tear gas to repel hundreds of migrants from the Turkish side demanding access to Greece.

Turkey has said that it will no longer prevent hundreds of thousands of migrants in its territory from reaching Europe, triggering an almost instantaneous race to the borders it shares with Greece, a member of the European Union.

Yesterday there were 9,600 attempts to violate our borders, and all were treated successfully, Deputy Defense Minister Alkiviadis Stefanis told Greek television Skai.

The International Organization for Migration calculated the number of people along the Greco-Turkish border at 13,000. Late on Saturday, buses in Turkish cities were still being loaded with people bound for the border area, he said.

Greece has said there was an orchestrated attempt at its borders and has accused Turkey of actively guiding migrants.

Not only are they not stopping them, but they are helping them, Stefanis told Skai.

Greece was a gateway for hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in Europe in 2015 and 2016. There are already more than 40,000 migrants in the Aegean Islands, living in heavily overcrowded camps and unclean conditions.

Last week, clashes broke out in Lesbos between riot police and locals to create closed detention centers to move the existing migrant population. The locals say the islands are suffering a disproportionate burden.

The European Union said it was supporting Greece.

Greece has promised to maintain a massive influx. We do not want this influx in our country, this country is not a free country for everyone, said migration minister Notis Mittarachi to Ant1 TV from Greece.

Reuters witnesses saw small groups of people crossing the fields on the outskirts of the Greek city of Orestiada, near the border. Four young Afghans, looking exhausted, sat around a small fire.

Later, Najibe Rezayi, 26, also from Afghanistan, cradled her seven-month-old daughter in her arms. We want a place to stay, food, heat, he said through an interpreter as they walked through the fog in the frost-covered fields.

Police and the army have been arresting people trying to cross into the country.

All are Afghans, not Syrians, an army officer said. Are these the Syrians (Turkish President Tayyip) that Erdogan was talking about?