More than 600 refugees arrived by boat to the Greek island of Lesbos on Thursday, the highest single influx since the height of the migrant crisis.
Sixteen rubber dinghies carrying about 650 mostly Syrian and Afghans, including 240 children, reached the Aegean island, while some had to be rescued from the water.
"It surprised us. It’s highly unusual to have so many boats at the same time, it’s an anomaly,” Boris Cheshirkov, spokesman for the United Nation’s refugee agency in Greece told the Telegraph. “It’s the highest number in a single day for three years. We can’t say for certain what the reason is.”
Hundreds have been arriving in Greece from Turkey each week, despite a deal struck between Turkey and the European Union which saw Ankara receives billions in funding from the bloc in return for stemming the flow.
But Thursday’s mass arrival was the largest of its kind since 2016, when the agreement came into effect.
Nikos Dendias, Greece’s foreign minister, summoned the Turkish ambassador to "express Greece’s deep discontent" at the recent increase in arrivals with Turkey. The ambassador said Ankara was "committed" to the deal and that its policy had not changed after being asked how so many were managing to make it Greek shores.
In the first two weeks of August 1,929 migrants arrived on Lesbos, compared with 479 in the same period last year.
They have joined the 10,000 others being held in Moria detention facility, which has been described by humanitarian organisations as overcrowded, unsafe and inhumane.
“Usually the factors that drive people to cross the sea from Turkey are warm weather and an increased volatility in their home countries, such as Syria and Afghanistan,” Mr Cheshirkov said.
Turkey’s foreign minister warned on Friday that an assault by President Bashar al-Assad’s government on Idlib province in neighbouring Syria, the last rebel-held territory in the country, was threatening to trigger a fresh exodus of refugees trying to flee.
Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the continued attacks by the Syrian regime, supported by Russia, could unleash another wave to Europe.
Turkey is hosting more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees – three times the number accepted by the whole of Europe.
It has been warning that it cannot accommodate any more refugees and has in recent weeks been deporting hundreds back to the war-torn country in contravention of international law.
The regime’s offensive on Idlib, which is home to over three million people, began in April and has intensified in recent weeks. According to war monitors more than 1,500 civilians have been killed and as many as 500,000 have been internally displaced, with the UN saying it threatens to be the biggest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.
On Friday, thousands protested at Syria’s closed border with Turkey. Some managed to break through the barriers, where they were met by live bullets and tear gas fired by Turkish forces. There were unconfirmed reports of casualties.
Syria’s opposition has been backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government in the fight against Assad and his sponsor Russia.
However, Turkey has in recent months become closer with Moscow, leaving some in Idlib to feel betrayed.
Protesters burned pictures of Mr Erdogan, who was photographed on Thursday eating ice cream with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a visit by the former to Moscow.
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“You disappointed us and you can’t protect us, so open your borders,” one demonstrator chanted. “Let us go to Europe.”