The situation in the Aegean and at the land border is tense: There have been clashes between Turkish and Greek security forces
The STANDARD has learned that the Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has confirmed his participation in talks in Brussels. The aim of the meeting on Monday is to solve the current migration crisis on the Greek-Turkish border, but also to fundamentally reorient the relationship between the EU and Turkey, according to media reports which had previously speculated about a trip to Brussels by Erdoğan.
Relations between the EU and Ankara are strained: Turkey accuses the EU of not keeping its promises under the refugee agreement concluded in March 2016. Brussels, in turn, accuses Turkey of using migrants and refugees as a means of exerting pressure.
In a recent interview with the STANDARD, EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn repeated the accusations: He considers it certain that the situation on the border with Greece “was controlled by the government in Ankara”. Erdoğan has a number of domestic political problems, so he is “reflexively seeking opponents outside”. The border conflict is only “an outflow of it”, explains Hahn.
EU ready to provide further aid to Turkey under conditions
In an interview with the newspaper “Die Welt”, Hahn set out the conditions for aid in the refugee crisis: further financial aid could only be provided if “Ankara’s blackmailing policy of sending refugees in the direction of the EU is stopped,” Hahn said. “This is about half a billion euros, which we calculate internally”, the Austrian told STANDARD. “The funds will come from the reserves of the EU budget.”
As before, most of the money will go directly to refugees. In particular in the field of education, schools and language training, there was still a need for 2020/21.
Coast Guards clashed in the Aegean
Despite international efforts to defuse the migration crisis, new dangerous incidents are causing concern. For example, the Turkish water police in the Aegean Sea are reported to have pushed a Greek boat belonging to the coast guard out of the way, carrying out risky manoeuvres. Greek media published video footage of the incident. Tear gas was used at the Turkish-Greek border.
A Greek water police officer stationed on Lesvos confirmed the coast guard incident on Saturday. “They were going to ram us,” he said. Erdoğan instructed the coast guard to stop letting migrants cross the Aegean in boats. What is meant is the crossing to Greece, i.e. to the EU. “Illegal migrant crossings through the Aegean are not allowed (…) because of the risks involved”, the Turkish coast guard stated in a statement, citing a presidential order.
The Turkish coast guard accuses Greece of putting refugee boats in danger. On 5 March, it rescued 97 migrants from three boats that had been left half-sunk by Greece. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called it totally unacceptable to be accused of not treating migrants decently in times of great need. “Greece has shown its humanity throughout the (refugee) crisis.” The country has opened its houses and hearts to the refugees for years.
According to Greek media reports, Turkish military and police officers support migrants in their attempt to cross Greece’s external EU border. The Greek state broadcaster ERT showed videos on Saturday in which Turkish soldiers push migrants towards the border with beatings and kicks. In addition, a rain of smoke bombs and tear gas could be seen, which had been fired over the fence from the Turkish side towards the Greek border.
“Refugee pact dead”
For Mitsotakis the refugee pact is dead. “Really? Right now, the pact is dead,” Mitsotakis told CNN in an interview. “What we are dealing with is not a migration or refugee problem. It is a deliberate attempt by Turkey to use refugees and migrants as political pawn sacrifices to pursue its own political interests,” Mitsotakis said.
In a refugee pact with the EU in 2016, Turkey pledged to take action against illegal migration. Ankara will receive financial support for the care of refugees in the country. Turkey has taken in some 3.6 million refugees from Syria. Erdoğan is however pressing for more money.
Hundreds of people crowded together on the Turkish side of the border fence. Since Turkey declared on 28 February that it would no longer prevent migrants from crossing the border, thousands of people have already tried to get into Greece and thus into the European Union. By Saturday morning alone, according to the Greek Government, there were more than 1200 attempts to cross the border within 24 hours. 27 people had been arrested.
In view of the increasing number of refugees on the Greek islands, the government in Athens has announced the construction of two additional refugee camps. The temporary refugee camps are to be built in Serres in northern Greece and in the greater Athens area and will have a total of 1000 places, said Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis on Saturday on Skai TV.
Mitarakis said that the new refugee camps were intended for asylum seekers who had arrived on the Aegean islands since March 1, the day on which the Turkish government opened its borders with the EU to refugees. “We need the support of the local communities,” Mitarakis stressed. “We cannot leave all these people on the islands.