ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek officials have launched a series of high-level contacts with the newly elected government in Turkey in an effort to counter a surge in attempted crossings by migrants over a river that divides the two countries.
Defense Minister Alkiviades Stephanis spoke on a call Wednesday with Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler, officials in Athens said, a day after the foreign ministers of the two countries also spoke. Guler and other members of the new Turkish government were appointed following the recent reelection victory of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Patrols along the Evros River on the Greek side of the border have been intensified following a recent drop in the water level that makes migrant crossings easier.
Several dozen migrants were removed from an islet in the Evros River by Turkish police and transported back to the mainland in dinghies, Greek officials said. A contact center set up nearby by Greek, Turkey and Bulgaria was formally notified of the operation by Turkey that took place in two stages, the officials said.
Greece and Turkey, both of which are NATO members, have a number of longstanding disputes, including sea boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean and efforts to curb illegal migration to the European Union.
Greece in the past has accused Turkey of “instrumentalizing” migration to push for concessions from the EU, but officials in both capitals have struck a more conciliatory tone in recent months.
Haralambos Lalousis, the Greek public order minister, said he didn’t believe that Turkey was behind the latest spike in migrant crossings
“No, I don’t think it is Turkey,” Lalousis said Tuesday on the eve of a tour of border areas.
Lalousis, a former Greek army chief and commander of forces based in the border region, said the armed forces were assisting patrols by the police.
Greece is planning a major expansion of a steel border wall in the area that currently spans 37.5 kilometers (25 miles), with an extra 35 kilometers (21 miles) to be built over the next 12 months and an additional 100 kilometers (62 miles) by 2026. ___
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