Sunday

17th Oct 2021

No new migrant deal between EU and Turkey

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (second from right) left abruptly without meeting press (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Migrants are still free to go to the Greek land border despite EU and Nato crisis talks with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Brussels on Monday (9 March).

The EU said only it would review implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, a 2016 deal on stopping migrants in return for humanitarian aid and other perks such as visa-free travel, but did not promise extra assistance.

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  • No offers of extra assistance from Nato either on Monday (Photo: nato.int)

Nato said Turkey was a "valued ally", but did not promise any more help on the war in Syria.

"There was a demand by the Turkish side to have a very close look at the 'statement' to see where we have and have not been successful ... this is a good start for further discussions," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.

"We have different opinions on different things and that is why it is important to have a frank and open dialogue," EU Council president Charles Michel added.

Erdoğan himself skipped the press conference and left without saying anything, but "the meeting at the EU was productive," a Turkish presidential source said.

Erdoğan had more to say after meeting Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg earlier in the day.

"Our allies should display their solidarity with our country," the Turkish leader said.

"It is very important that the support we demand is met without any further delay," he added.

"It is irrational and inconsiderate that an ally and a neighbouring country [Greece] point to Turkey as responsible for the irregular migration," he also said in a swipe at the Greek government.

"Nato will continue to support Turkey with a range of different measures. This includes defensive missile systems, helping to protect Turkey against threats from Syria. We also support Turkey with air and naval presence," Stoltenberg said, referring to previously agreed assistance.

Erdoğan, earlier on Friday, had said he would stop migrants crossing the sea to Greece for safety reasons, raising hope he was preparing to back down.

He also agreed a new Syria ceasefire with Russia, raising hope that more refugees would not be pushed from Syria to Turkey.

But the snap EU and Nato summits did nothing to ease tensions on the Greek land border, where Greek police have been fighting tens of thousands of migrants using rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon for the past week.

Erdoğan's comment on Greece at the Nato meeting also met with an angry Greek reaction.

"Why do we spend so much on defence? It's because our neighbour is Turkey and not Denmark. As prime minister of Greece I don't have to listen to lessons on human rights from Turkey," Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a speech at the German Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank in Berlin, the same day.

The reports of Greek violence have also prompted outcries by human rights groups.

Greece 'inhumane'

"In the past few days we heard from people who were beaten up and forced back to Turkey after attempting to enter Greece, including some who had been stripped naked and robbed of his money. It is unthinkable that in the EU people are being subjected to such inhumane, intentionally humiliating, treatment," Eve Geddie, from international charity Amnesty, said.

Greece should also let the 450 migrants it was holding in the hull of a naval vessel in the Mytilene harbour on the island of Lesbos apply for asylum, international NGO Human Rights Watch said.

Von der Leyen said Greece should not use disproportionate force and should let people apply for protection, but declined to criticise Greek security measures or its one-month asylum freeze directly.

Finland, France, Luxembourg, and Portugal would also join Germany is resettling 1,500 child refugees from Greek islands, she added.

Turkey currently hosts 3.7m refugees, but up to 1m more have been driven by fighting to the Syria-Turkey border.

The EU-Turkey Statement promised Turkey progress on visa-free travel, customs union, and enlargement as well as billions in humanitarian aid.

But breakthroughs on visas and accession seem like dim prospects amid EU concern over Erdoğan's brutal crackdown on political opponents at home.

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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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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Von der Leyen's Greek 'shield' will not work

The EU's only response so far is to work with Greece to strengthen the border into south-east Europe - a short-term measure which fails to deal with Turkey's intention to pressure the EU into supporting its wider agenda in Syria.

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