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28th Nov 2021

Migrant deal with Turkey 'still stands', EU says

  • The Evros river divides the land border between Greece and Turkey (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

The EU's deal with Turkey to stem migration flows remains unchanged and intact, says the European Commission.

"Turkish authorities officially confirmed that there is no change in the official policy, no change in official position," Peter Stano, a European Commission spokesperson, told reporters in Brussels on Friday (28 February).

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His comments follow reports Turkey had opened its borders to allow refugees and migrants to cross into Greece via sea and land.

It also follows videos shown by Turkish state TV of people walking towards the Greek land border and others taking at least two boats to reach the Greek island of Lesbos.

Some of those movements were broadcasted live and appeared to suggest Turkish authorities were waving through people and boats.

Others attempting to cross into Bulgaria were apparently denied, according to Turkish broadcaster NTV.

The images come after Turkey lost some 30 troops in Syria's embattled Idlib province as an increasingly frustrated Ankara finds itself broadly isolated in the conflict.

'This deal still stands'

Stano refuted any reports Ankara had opened its borders saying Turkey instead needs to maintain a deal hatched between the two sides in early 2016.

"From our point of view, the EU-Turkey statement, which was basically conceived in order to manage the irregular migration, this deal, this statement still stands and we expect Turkey to uphold its commitment," said Stano.

Turkey's ministry of foreign affairs also issued a statement, saying its policies have not changed.

"As the world's largest refugee-hosting country, there is no change in Turkey's policy towards refugees and asylum seekers," it said on Friday.

In return for some €6bn of EU funds, mostly shuffled through aid agencies to help refugees, Turkey had agreed to clamp down on people taking boats to cross the Aegean to reach the Greek islands.

The 2016 deal between the two sides has come under numerous threats by Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In December, Erdogan said Turkey would not be able to absorb even more refugees should the conflict in Syria spiral out of control.

Turkey currently hosts well over three million refugees, mostly Syrians.

Some 82,000 migrants and asylum seekers were detected last year attempting to cross from Turkey into Greece and Bulgaria, the highest since the 2016 deal was put in place.

Of those around 14,000 were detected trying to cross through the Western Balkans, more than double the figure in 2018.

People from Afghanistan and Syria accounted for over half of all registered irregular arrivals on both routes last year.

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Turkey's president Erdogan said more violence in the north-western Syrian province of Idlib would trigger a new migration crisis "felt by all European countries."

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'Repatriation' of Syrians in Turkey needs EU action

We interviewed 18 Syrian refugees in Turkey by phone. They all said Turkish authorities had arbitrarily detained them in immigration removal centres and forced them to sign forms they were not allowed to read but believed were voluntary repatriation forms.

Turkey calls for EU action on Idlib

The EU must help Turkey in Syria as well as honour a 2016 migration pact if it wanted the flow of refugees to end, Turkey's EU embassy has said.

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