Wednesday

8th Feb 2023

Turkey and EU start haggling on refugee crisis

  • Erdogan (l) has also accused the EU of 'xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The Turkish president, in Brussels on Monday (5 October), belittled Europe's handling of the refugee crisis, while EU leaders sought his help to stop migrants coming.

The summit was designed to clinch a deal, in principle, on protecting Europe’s borders in return for more aid.

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, after meeting EU Council president Donald Tusk, that Turkey has taken 10 times more refugees than the EU.

He said he’s spent $7.8 billion on the situation, while getting just $417 million in international aid.

He added “we’ve done this without any discrimination”, in a dig at eastern EU states, such as Slovakia, which say they prefer Christian to Muslim migrants.

Tusk said: “The EU needs to protect its borders better … We expect Turkey to do the same”.

“The situation where hundreds of thousands are fleeing to the EU via Turkey must be stopped”.

More than 350,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Syria, left Turkey for Greece in the past nine moths, EU sources said. Turkish border authorities stopped just 50,000 people.

The European Commission has put forward a plan, the EU contacts added, which includes: new European funds for Turkey; speeding up EU visa-free travel; joint Greek-Turkish border patrols; creation of migrant reception centres in Turkey; and help for refugees to integrate in Turkish society.

It doesn’t include a pledge for the EU to take in 500,000 refugees, as previously reported, the sources said.

For his part, Erdogan agreed to launch a high-level working group to discuss all aspects of the migrant crisis.

The talks are to explore border security, fighting smugglers, and Turkey’s idea of creating safe zones inside Syria.

The EU institutions want to launch a process which they can formally endorse at next week’s EU summit.

But with a bellicose Erdogan gearing up for national elections on 1 November, there is little hope of immediate cooperation.

“Before the elections, he [Erdogan] won’t agree to anything”, an EU source said.

Erdogan’s proposal of safe areas in Syria is a sensitive issue.

The idea is for the Turkish military to establish a buffer zone in northern Syria to stem the flow of migrants and to repatriate some refugees. The operation would require a UN blessing and the EU is reluctant to give support.

Mark Toner, a US State Department spokesman, on Monday in Washington, also poured cold water on the idea of a no-fly zone in Syria.

"We don’t think it’s necessary and we don’t think it’s feasible on the ground. It involves a lot of logistical support that we don’t have in place right now to maintain such a venture", he said.

Meanwhile, Erdogan used his EU visit to demonise Kurdish groups.

He said Kurdish forces in the region, such as the PKK or YPG factions, are also terrorists even if they're fighting the jihadist Islamic State.

“This terrorist organisation should not be given the chance to achieve some sort of cloak of legitimacy under the guise of fighting ISIS [Islamic State] in Syria”, he said.

His strident rhetoric comes after he recently stepped up a military campaign against Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

It also comes amid competition for votes with the moderate Kurdish and pro-reform HDP party.

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