Is Greece flouting refugee law by suspending new asylum claims?
Louise Greenwood

The Greek authorities have suspended new asylum claims for a month amid chaotic scenes on its land border with Turkey, as refugees attempt to cross to the European Union. The United Nations claims around 13,000 men, women and children from across the Middle East and Africa have gathered at the border posts of Pazarkule and Ipsala, after Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his country would no longer stop migrants attempting to reach the bloc.


Greece's prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has come under fire for stopping asylum applications. /AP/Giannis Papanikos

Greece's prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has come under fire for stopping asylum applications. /AP/Giannis Papanikos

In a move that has been widely condemned in Brussels, buses carrying asylum seekers have arrived from Istanbul on the understanding they would be granted safe passage. Instead, the Greek authorities have sealed the border and sought to restrain them with tear gas and rubber bullets. Meanwhile, on the Aegean islands of Lesbos and Chios, where around 40,000 refugees are already living in overcrowded and squalid camps, angry residents have tried to stop dingy loads of new arrivals from docking.

This latest influx of migrants follows an escalation in violence in the Syrian city of Idlib, where Turkey is engaged in military conflict with the Russia-backed forces of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad. Turkey's Erdogan, who is seeking EU and NATO backing for his campaign, has for months threatened to open Turkey's borders with Europe, effectively ending a deal that was struck in 2016 through which the Turkish republic agreed to host Syrians fleeing the bombing in return for a six billion euro ($6.7 billion) EU support package. 

Turkey's actions have been condemned by Europe's leaders, with Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel calling them "unacceptable," while Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte warned that Brussels "will not renegotiate [the deal] with Mr Erdogan with a knife at its throat."

Greece's prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis claimed Turkey had become "the official trafficker of migrants to the European Union." However, his government's actions have been criticized by international bodies including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which claims Greece had no right to stop accepting asylum applications. CGTN Europe was joined by a leading refugee lawyer to discuss the legal position of the thousands now camped out in freezing conditions on Turkey's western border.