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11th Jul 2020

Turkey calls for EU action on Idlib

  • Some 3.7m people moved to Turkey since the Syria war began (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU must help Turkey in Syria as well as honour an existing migration pact if it wants the flow of refugees to end, Turkey has said.

Turkey had been stopping migrants from going to Greece for the past four years under a 2016 deal called the EU-Turkey Statement.

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But it let them go once again last week, saying the EU was not fulfilling the pact.

It also did it amid heavy fighting in the Idlib region in Syria, which killed 33 Turkish soldiers and pushed another one million refugees to the Turkish border.

And on Tuesday (3 March), it said the EU must help on Idlib as well as on the 2016 deal to return to normalcy.

"This policy change [on refugees going to Greece] will be implemented until the EU and the member states remember their unfulfilled commitments under the statement and also show willingness to do what is necessary in addressing the root causes of sufferings in Idlib," the Turkish EU embassy told EUobserver.

"Turkey has stretched its limits and can no longer accept additional refugees from the Idlib region," it added.

"We can no longer accommodate renewed inflows if there is no serious burden sharing with the EU," it said.

The Turkish embassy urged the EU and US to help Turkey create a "safe zone" in Idlib where Syrian refugees could live instead.

"The lack of support by our allies [on the safe zone] has been disheartening," the embassy said.

"The EU's position with regard to the situation in Idlib is akin to offering aspirin to treat a gangrene that needs to be operated. When we finally decided to operate on our own, the EU harshly criticised us and called for restraint, but at the same time, it raised complaints about the inflow of refugees at its border," the embassy said, referring to Turkey's military operation in Syria.

Non-compliance?

The Turkish embassy listed the ways in which the EU was not compliant with the 2016 migration deal.

The EU had promised to pay €6bn to help refugees living in Turkey, but had paid "less than €3bn", it said.

It had promised to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey to Europe, but had hardly done so.

And it had promised to speed up talks on Turkish enlargement, visa-free travel, and customs union, but these had stalled.

"The EU has long failed to honour its obligations. One can understand this simply by reading the [2016] statement article by article," the Turkish EU embassy said.

"None of our Syrian sisters and brothers have been asked to leave [Turkey]. If they choose to stay, they are most welcome as before. But if they choose to leave, they are of course free to leave," it added.

"The number of those who have left Turkey has so far reached 130,000," it also said.

EU denial

For its part, the EU denied it was in breach of the 2016 pact.

"The EU is sticking to its part of the deal," an EU foreign service spokesman said in Brussels on Tuesday.

The EU had signed contracts for €4.7bn of the €6bn aid budget and disbursed €3.2bn of it, the European Commission also told EUobserver.

The EU had resettled 26,576 Syrians from Turkey to Europe in the past four years, it said.

And visa-free travel talks were moving ahead, with Turkey just six out of 72 technical benchmarks away from meeting EU standards, the commission said.

Talks on enlargement and customs union were at a standstill, but this was due to Turkey's backsliding on human rights at home after the 2016 deal, the EU added.

"The underlying facts leading to this assessment still hold," the commission said.

Burden sharing

The Greek prime minister also accused Turkey of bad faith.

Turkey was trying to "blackmail" the EU on Syria, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in Athens on Tuesday alongside top EU officials.

"This is a blatant attempt by Turkey to use desperate people to promote its geopolitical agenda," he said.

But the EU figure of just 26,576 resettled Syrians was dwarfed by the 3.7m people who have moved to Turkey since the Syria war began.

"We can no longer accept the attitude that millions of displaced persons and refugees are somehow our problem only," the Turkish EU embassy said.

Turkey was "seriously struggling to cope", Amanda Paul, an expert at the European Policy Centre, a think-tank in Brussels, noted.

"Domestic resentment has grown amid the economic downturn. If you go to Istanbul, you can immediately understand the huge burden that Turkey is under ... It certainly cannot take more," she said.

Migrant deal with Turkey 'still stands', EU says

The European Commission says the 2016 deal with Turkey to stem migration flows towards Greece "still stands". The comments follow reports Turkey had opened its borders to allow refugees and migrants into Greece and Bulgaria.

Opinion

Threat to EU on Greece-Turkey border is EU-made

Despite the escalating bloodshed in Idlib, the EU had made no evident plans to continue funding Syrian refugees in Turkey with the impending expiration of the so-called EU-Turkey statement.

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