Turkey moves ahead with its threats to send refugees to EU

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Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. An air strike by Syrian government forces killed scores of Turkish soldiers in northeast Syria, a Turkish official said Friday, marking the largest death toll for Turkey in a single day since it first intervened in Syria in 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

ATHENS – Hundreds of refugees and migrants in Turkey have begun heading for the country’s land and sea borders with Greece, buoyed by Turkish officials’ statements indicating they will not be hindered from crossing the frontier to head into Europe.

The move comes a day after a deadly Syrian airstrike that killed more than 30 Turkish troops in Idlib, Syria, where Turkey has been engaged since 2016.

WHO ARE THE REFUGEES OR MIGRANTS IN TURKEY?

Turkey currently hosts about 3.6 million Syrian refugees. In 2016, it agreed with the European Union to step up efforts to halt the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees who headed from its shores into Greece in 2015, in return for funds to support the refugees.

Apart from the Syrian refugees registered in Turkey, the country has also been a staging ground and transit point for many people from the Middle East, North Africa and central Asia hoping to head to Europe. Its coastline’s proximity to Greek islands, and the country’s land border with EU member Greece, have made it one of the preferred routes into the EU for those fleeing war and poverty at home.

REPEATED THREATS

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has frequently warned he could open Turkey's borders and allow refugees into Europe — a threat often made during periods of tense relations with EU countries.

Last September, he threatened to allow Syrian refugees to leave for western Europe unless a so-called “safe zone” was established inside Syria.