One week after the opening of the Turkish border, diplomacy is in full swing. Chancellor Merkel spoke with President Erdogan on the phone. He instructed his coast guard to prevent any crossing of the Aegean Sea.
While the situation on the Turkish-Greek border remains tense, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the previous agreements no longer worked and needed to be revised. Erdogan had said this in a telephone conversation with Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Office of the President in Ankara announced.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Press Office said that during the conversation the two had discussed the results of Erdogan’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which a cease-fire was agreed upon in the northern Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib. Merkel also spoke with Erdogan about “how the people in Idlib can be helped as quickly as possible. The spokeswoman continued: “The situation on the Turkish-Greek border was also a topic of discussion. She did not give any further details.
Green leader calls for new refugee agreement
Meanwhile, Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock has described the current refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey as “failed” and called for a new, better agreement. “Instead of this failed deal, we need a new agreement guaranteed by the rule of law, which learns from the mistakes of the past, ensures that people are well cared for and that the 27 EU states do not fall like dominoes when Erdogan blows once,” Baerbock told the Düsseldorf-based newspaper “Rheinische Post”. The agreement with Ankara had not just failed in the past few days, but in the “terrible camps of Lesbos”, Baerbock said, with a view to the overcrowded refugee shelters on the Greek Aegean island.
European sovereignty is demonstrated by the fact that the EU is making further binding financial commitments to support the more than four million refugees in Turkey. They need access to schools, hospitals and the labour market. “A functioning agreement also includes a reliable pledge for the resettlement of particularly vulnerable people from Turkey to Europe – especially in light of the acute situation in the Idlib region,” said Baerbock, referring to the disputed province in north-western Syria. Turkey must stop abusing people as a bargaining chip and respect the rights of those in need of protection.
Coast guard should not allow crossings to the Aegean
Meanwhile, Erdogan instructed the coast guard not to allow refugees and migrants to cross the Aegean Sea by boat. What is meant is the crossing to Greece, i.e. to the EU. The Minister of the Interior will monitor the implementation, the coast guard announced.
However, this does not appear to be meant as a withdrawal of the unilateral opening of the borders to the EU for refugees and other migrants announced on Saturday. The “principle of non-interference”, if migrants wanted to leave the country illegally, would still apply, the statement said. However, this approach does not cover sea voyages because of the “life-threatening danger”.
The coast guard accuses Greece of putting refugee boats in danger. On March 5th, they had rescued a total of 97 migrants from three boats that had been left half-sunk by Greece.
Situation at the border remains tense
The situation at the border remains tense. There have been renewed clashes between migrants and emergency services. The Greek police used tear gas against people trying to break through the border fences and enter the EU. Several migrants again threw stones at the police.
The government in Athens accused Turkey of firing tear gas and smoke grenades at Greek border guards. Turkey distributed cutting devices to people so that they could cut through the border fences, the authorities claimed.
EU foreign affairs commissioner: “Border is not open
The situation near the border crossing at Pazarkule calmed down after a short time. Hundreds of migrants then gathered on the Greek side and chanted “Freedom”, “Peace” and “Open the gates! Some of them held up signs saying “We want to live in peace”.
“Don’t go to the border, the border is not open,” EU foreign affairs commissioner Josep Borrell said to people hoping to enter the EU. “If we want to avoid critical situations, people need to know the truth.” Reports of alleged border openings to Greece, Bulgaria or Cyprus were false, he said. “Let’s end this game”, said Borrell.
EU foreign ministers criticize the situation at the border
At the same time, he said the EU must improve its relations with Turkey and Russia and ministers would discuss additional funds for Turkey. “Turkey has a great burden, four million people. We have to understand that.”
After their meeting in Zagreb, the EU foreign ministers said the situation on the Turkish-Greek border was not acceptable. They promised Greece “full solidarity” as well as “Bulgaria, Cyprus and other member states that could be similarly affected”.
Erdogan had announced last weekend that Turkey’s borders with Greece were open because the EU was not abiding by the refugee agreement. As a result, thousands of migrants set off for the border. In response, Greece closed its borders with Turkey and announced that it would not process any more asylum applications for a month. In total, Turkey has so far taken in around 3.6 million people and keeps appealing to the EU to help share the burden.