EDIRNE, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to be in Brussels on Monday for a one-day working visit, his office said amid a charged conflict between Turkey and the European Union over migrants and refugees.
Thousands of migrants headed for Turkey's land border with Greece after Erdogan's government said last week that it would no longer prevent migrants and refugees from crossing over to EU territory. Greece deployed riot police and border guards to repel people trying to enter the country from the sea or by land.
A statement from Erdogan's office said he would travel to Brussels on Mar. 9. It did not specify where he would be during his one-day visit or the nature of the work taking him to the Belgian capital, but the European Union's headquarters are in Brussels.
The announcement came hours after European Union foreign ministers meeting in Croatia on Friday criticized Turkey, saying it was using the migrants' desperation "for political purposes."
More clashes erupted Saturday between Greek police and Europe-bound migrants gathered on the Turkey side of a border crossing near the Greek village of Kastanies. Like previous confrontations this week, officers in Greece fired tear gas to impede the crowd and Turkish police fired tear gas back at their Greek counterparts.
A Greek government statement issued Saturday said that around 600 people, aided by Turkish army and military police, threw tear gas at the Greek side of the border overnight. There were several attempts to breach the border fence, and fires were lit in an attempt to damage the barrier, the statement said.
“Attempts at illegal entry into Greek territory were prevented by Greek forces, which repaired the fence and used sirens and loudspeakers," the statement read.
Erdogan announced said last week that Turkey, which already houses more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, would no longer be Europe's gatekeeper and declared that its previously guarded borders with Europe are now open.
The move alarmed E.U. countries, which are still enduring political fallout from a wave of mass migration five years ago.
Erdogan has demanded that Europe shoulder more of the burden of caring for refugees. But the E.U. insists it is abiding by a 2016 deal in which it gave Turkey billions in refugee aid in return for keeping Europe-bound asylum-seekers on its soil.
In a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, Erdogan said the Turkey-EU migration deal is no longer working and needs to be revised, according to the Turkish leaders's office.
The European foreign ministers acknowledged Turkey for hosting millions of migrants and refugee, but said the 27-nation EU “strongly rejects Turkey's use of migratory pressure for political purposes." The ministers called the situation at the Greece-Turkey border unacceptable and said the EU was determined to protect its external boundaries.
Greece has described the situation as a threat to its national security. In response it has suspended asylum applications for a month and said it will deport new arrivals without registering them. Many migrants have reported crossing into Greece, being beaten by Greek authorities and summarily forced back into Turkey.