Refugees flood Turkey's border as it opens to Europe after air strike

Syrian refugees have gathered at the Turkish border with Greece after the country declared it would open its gates to Europe following a deadly airstrike that saw hundreds of thousands displaced.

The air raid in Idlib, northern Syria, yesterday killed 33 Turkish soldiers and the country expects an influx of new refugees to enter as a result. Omer Celik, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party, said Turkey was ‘no longer able to hold refugees’ following the Syrian attack.

In anticipation of the new arrivals, Turkey has said it will no longer prevent people travelling by land and sea into Greece. President Erdogan has long warned that his country can no longer cope with the arrival of people fleeing the conflict.

Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrians and under a 2016 deal with the European Union agreed to step up efforts to halt the flow of refugees to Europe. Since then Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to ‘open the gates’ in several disputes with European states.

DHA news agency reported that some 300 Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Moroccans and Pakistanis are currently gathering at the border with Greece, while others are grouping together at beaches facing Greek islands off Turkey’s western coast.

A Greek police official said dozens of people had gathered on the Turkish side of the land border in Greece’s northeastern Evros region shouting ‘open the borders’. Greek police and military border patrols have been deployed on the Greek side to prevent anyone trying to cross.

NATO envoys will today hold emergency talks with Turkey following the airstrike. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement that the meeting of ambassadors would be held under Article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty, which allows any ally to request consultations if it feels its territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.

The air strike by Syrian government forces marks the largest death toll for Turkey in a single day since it first intervened in Syria in 2016. It’s a major escalation in a conflict between Turkish and Russia-backed Syrian forces that has raged since early February. At least 54 Turkish troops have now been killed in Idlib in that time.

Apart from providing some aerial surveillance over Syria, NATO plays no direct role in the conflict-torn country, but its members are deeply divided over Turkey’s actions there, and European allies are worried about any new wave of refugees arriving.

Turkey’s invasion of the north of the conflict-torn country has come close to sparking a crisis at the military alliance.

France in particular has tried to launch debate on what Turkey’s allies should do if Ankara requests their assistance under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which requires all allies to come to the defense of another member under attack. The debate has not yet happened.

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