As a growing number of migrants tries to cross from Turkey into the European Union, people-smugglers are working in plain sight to thwart Greek border patrols.
Authorities said on Tuesday they had thwarted another 1,000 attempted border crossings overnight after several days of intensified migrant activity at sea and along the 200-kilometre (125-mile) land border between Turkey and Greece.
Some 45 people were arrested on Tuesday alone, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco and Bangladesh.
It came after a child died when a small boat capsized at sea off Greece on Monday. The boy, aged around 6 or 7, was among 48 refugees rescued from waters off Lesbos.
Turkey hosts around 3.6 million Syrian refugees and many Afghans, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facilitating their exit to pressure the EU to support his forces in Syria.
‘I want them to go away from here’
Many try and cross the border at the River Evros (also known in Turkey as as the Meriç or Maritsa River) where the Greek military has been blasting messages over loudspeakers at migrants, urging them to “go back”.
Along the banks of the river near Erdine, illegal Turkish people-smugglers are openly recruiting migrants to try and take across the border into Europe. They say Erdogan’s comments have given them a green-light to operate.
“We had these migrants who arrived to cross Greece,” said a man who said his name was Semih. “It has become something allowed from our Turkish side. In the past we used to get them across for $200 or $300 per person and now we do it for $15.”
He added: “Of course I see it as my duty. It’s money that motivates me. I want them to go away from here [the migrants] so that Turkey’s economy gets better. That’s all that matters to me.”
Erdogan ‘has given his agreement’
Another smuggler, who gave his name as Cevat, said: “Currently, migrants continue to flock here. Thousands of people, it’s even hard to say exactly how many. Thousands of people pass through here from evening to morning.
“Our President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given instructions on this subject, he has given his agreement for them [migrants] to leave. But on the Greek side, we are rather experiencing difficulties. Just a short while ago, right over there, Greek soldiers pointed their guns at us.”