Recep Tayyip Erdoğan must stop blackmailing Europe with its refugee policy, says the EU. The Turkish president is expected in Brussels on Monday.
Shortly before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visits Brussels, the EU has set out conditions for continuing to support Turkey in caring for refugees. Financial aid could only be provided if “Ankara’s blackmailing policy of sending refugees towards the EU is stopped,” EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn told the world. In principle, the EU was prepared to provide further financial aid. However, these would be significantly less than in the previous refugee agreement with Turkey, Hahn said.
The Turkish President is expected to make a working visit to Brussels on Monday. His office announced that he would travel to Brussels on 9 March. The statement did not indicate with whom Erdoğan intends to meet in the Belgian capital.
Last weekend, Erdoğan declared the EU’s borders open. This triggered a large influx of refugees at the border with Greece. The background is the attacks by the Syrian government army on the northern region of the Idlib. Since then hundreds of thousands of people have fled from the Syrian troops to Turkey. It is unclear whether a recently announced ceasefire will hold.
Turkish coast guard wants to block refugee boats
The situation on the Turkish-Greek border remains tense in the run-up to Erdoğans visit to Brussels. Once again, Greek police used tear gas and water cannons against migrants who tried to break through fences at the border crossing in Edirne province, throwing stones at security forces.
Turkish border guards also used tear gas. Several thousand refugees are on the spot, the exact number is unknown. While the UN last week spoke of 13,000 people trying to reach Greece, a Turkish TV station on Friday mentioned a figure of 5,000.
On the Aegean islands, the rush could relax for a while. Erdoğan has instructed the Turkish coast guard to no longer allow migrants to cross the Aegean. The reason is the dangerous crossing: The Turkish coast guard accuses Greece of deliberately endangering the boats, Greek authorities reject this.
According to the Turkish coast guard, Erdoğans order for the Aegean does not mean a fundamental change of course in border policy. Turkey would still not prevent migrants from leaving the country at their own request.
Turkish Minister of the Interior threatens with rising numbers of refugees
The Turkish Minister of the Interior, Süleyman Soylu, also pointed this out in an interview. He told Turkish journalists that more than 143,000 people had reached Greece since the opening of the border. “This is only the beginning. You should see what will happen next. What has happened so far is nothing.” However, the figure quoted by Soylu is many times higher than the one from Greece. There, 37,000 attempted border crossings in the last seven days.
The refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey, concluded in March 2016, was agreed after hundreds of thousands of refugees had arrived in Central Europe via the Balkan route in 2015. Turkey committed itself to readmit all refugees arriving in the Aegean islands and to take stronger action against gangs of smugglers. In return, the EU promised billions in aid, accelerated facilitation of travel visas and modernisation of the customs union. Since then, Erdoğan has repeatedly threatened to open the border because in its view the promises have not been kept.