Shortly before a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Brussels the EU has set conditions for aid in the refugee crisis. Further financial aid could only be given if “Ankara’s blackmailing policy of sending refugees towards the EU is stopped”, EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn told the German newspaper “Die Welt” (Saturday edition).
Meanwhile, Erdogan instructed his coast guard to prevent fugitives from crossing over to Greece by boat – but this should not be a change of course in the refugee dispute. Last week, the Turkish president had declared the borders to the EU open following the escalation of the situation in the war-torn northern Syrian province of Idlib. This caused a large influx of refugees at the Turkish-Greek border and led to new tensions between Ankara and Brussels.
As reported by the newspaper “Die Welt”, Erdogan will now travel to Brussels for talks on Monday. The central topic will be the current crisis on the Greek-Turkish border. The Turkish Presidency confirmed that Erdogan would travel to Belgium in the near future, but did not give any details.
EU basically ready to provide further aid
The EU accuses Turkey of using the fugitives as a means of pressure on Brussels. Turkey, for its part, accuses the EU of not keeping its promises under the refugee agreement concluded in March 2016. In principle, Turkey is prepared to “provide further financial aid to support refugees in Turkey”, said EU Commissioner Hahn. However, these would be “significantly less” than in the previous EU refugee agreement with Turkey.
Greece accuses Turkey
The Greek head of government Kyriakos Mitsotakis described the EU-Turkey Refugee Pact as “dead” on Friday on the US channel CNN. Ankara is to blame, he said, as it had decided to “completely violate the agreement”. Turkey had “actively” supported migrants on land and water in their efforts to reach Greece.
Bulgaria sees things quite differently. In the view of head of government Boyko Borisov, the pact with Turkey applies “with full force”. In view of the continuing calm on the Bulgarian-Turkish EU’s external border, Borissov said on Saturday that Bulgaria had already taken the necessary measures for border protection years ago, so that the pressure there was “zero”.
Bulgaria’s 259-kilometre-long land border with Turkey is protected by fences with barbed wire and thermal and thermal cameras. However, Turkey – unlike Greece – does not let any refugees through in the direction of Bulgaria, as Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said on Thursday. Bulgaria has already increased the protection of its border with Turkey by gendarmerie after the first refugee movements in Turkey in the direction of the EU. In addition, the armed forces were said to be on standby to send up to 1,000 soldiers and technology to the Turkish border.
Numbers vary widely
According to the Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, more than 143,000 people have reached Greece since Turkey announced the opening of its borders with the EU. He told journalists in the eastern Turkish city of Elazig on Saturday that the number would soon rise sharply: “This is only the beginning. You should see what will happen next. What has happened so far is nothing,” he added.
The figure quoted by Soylu is not verifiable and is much larger than the information from Greece. Such a large number of people would have been hard to miss for Greek media reporting along the border. On the Greek side, there has been talk since the weekend of fewer than 100 people being arrested and some 37 000 illegal border crossings being prevented in the last seven days. Greek head of government Mitsotakis was not able to keep the border closed, said the Turkish minister of the interior.
Athens wants to build additional refugee camps
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 the northern Greek city of Serres and in the Athens metropolitan area and will have a total of 1,000 places, said Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis on Saturday on the Greek radio station Skai. 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.
In Greece, state financial support for refugees is to be stopped as of mid-March. Greece will cut these benefits, said Migration Minister Mitarakis. “Our aim is to grant asylum to entitled persons within two to three months and then to cut benefits and accommodation, because all these measures have contributed to people coming into the country and taking advantage of these benefits,” Mitarakis said. “Those who are granted asylum are subsequently responsible for themselves.” There were integration and support programmes, but beyond that, things could not be financed.
Drastic reports on the situation of the escaped prisoners
Andrew Gardner of Amnesty International describes as “miserable” the situation of thousands of refugees who have been on the Turkish-Greek border for days. The Turkey expert had spent the past few days at the Turkish border. Refugees were being beaten and robbed in Greece, Gardner told APA.
The EU and Turkey had concluded a refugee agreement in March 2016 after hundreds of thousands of refugees had arrived in Central Europe via the Balkan route in 2015. Ankara pledged to take back all refugees arriving in the Greek Aegean islands and to take stronger action against gangs of traffickers. In return, the EU promised Turkey billions in aid, accelerated visa facilitation and the modernisation of the customs union.