Greece, Turkey trade barbs over refugees. Athens claims Turkey encourages Iranians to flee illegally to Greece
A new chapter has been added to the already stormy relationship between Greece and Turkey. The two NATO member countries - which have traded verbal salvos in the past 12 years over the Cyprus situation, rights in the Aegean Sea, and more recently Turkey's efforts at full entry into the European Economic Community - are now swapping barbs over Iranian refugees who are coming into Greece from Turkey.
The border region involved in the dispute is a 120-mile stretch of agricultural land in the northeast corner of Greece where only two roads and one rail line provide legal passage between the two countries. At the one brief section of the border not defined by the 'Evros River, Greek and Turkish guards face one another nose-to-nose across a barbed-wire fence.
The Athens government claims that, since late August, 122 Iranians have crossed the 'Evros and that another 3,000 are gathered at a camp near the Turkish city of Edirne waiting to enter. It also asserts that thousands more are staying in Istanbul to arrange their passage into Greece and other countries in the West.
Representatives in Athens for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) have interviewed some of the refugees at the frontier. The organization, which gives no estimate of the number of total Iranian entries, maintains a number of refugee camps in Turkey.
For its part, Turkey acknowledges that 36 Iranians passed into Greece in mid-October. The Turkish Embassy in Athens, however, has labeled as ``fabrications'' the allegations that other crossings have been made and that thousands more Iranians are amassed at the border.
Turkey also counters a Greek charge that Turkish guards fired at refugees to force them into Greece, saying border outposts on both sides of the frontier traded warning shots during the October crossing.
One Turkish spokesman expressed surprise at Greece's demand that Turkey restrict the movement of Iranians, saying this violates the 1951 Geneva Convention on the legal status of refugees. Iranians do not require a visa for entry into Turkey.