Refugee crisis: EU accuses Turkish president of political blackmail

BRUSSELS, (BM) – The migration crisis developing on the Greek-Turkish border was provoked by Ankara for political purposes, learned citing Kommersant.

Such a statement was made by the foreign ministers of the EU member states, who gathered yesterday for an emergency meeting.

According to the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrel, the agreement on a ceasefire in the Syrian de-escalation zone Idlib, reached on Thursday by the presidents of the Russian Federation and Turkey, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, can help reduce tension in the future. Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan himself has already stated that the borders will remain open in any case – which means that the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe on the EU’s borders will only grow.

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“The ceasefire is a good sign and a manifestation of goodwill. Now you need to see how it will work. This agreement is a prerequisite for sending additional humanitarian aid to Syria,” the statement by the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrel, was one of the most optimistic comments made on Friday regarding the agreement between the presidents of the Russian Federation and Turkey.

Recall that on the eve of Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow discussed the situation in Syrian Idlib and, after a six-hour conversation, agreed on a ceasefire in the de-escalation zone (see Kommersant on March 6).

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres yesterday expressed “hope that this agreement will lead to an immediate and long-term cessation of hostilities, which will protect civilians in the northwestern regions of Syria.”

Some other Western politicians expressed themselves in the same spirit, calling for the implementation of the agreements reached.

However, not everyone is convinced that the lull will be long.

“I don’t believe it,” James Jeffrey, US Special Representative for Syria, told CBS. In his opinion, Russia will not be able to achieve a real ceasefire, and the Turks, supporting a number of Syrian armed opposition groups, “cannot retreat, or they will have 3 million new refugees in excess of almost 4 million that they have already received from Syria.”

Read more: Refugee crisis: F-16s in the sky and assistance from Frontex on Greek border

The day before, Syrian President Bashar Assad also demonstrated his determination in an interview with Russia-24 television channel. “After the liberation of Idlib, our goal will be the liberation of the eastern regions. I have repeatedly said that Idlib from a military point of view is an advanced bridgehead,” he said. At the same time, Mr. Assad accused Recep Tayyip Erdogan of acting in Idlib “of course, at the behest of the Americans.”

Yesterday a telephone conversation took place between Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin’s press service said the Syrian president “praised the outcome of the talks between the leaders of Russia and Turkey and expressed appreciation to the Russian president for his support in the fight against terrorist groups and for efforts aimed at ensuring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.” Vladimir Putin, as follows from the same message, assured that “the implementation of the agreements will stabilize the situation in the Idlib zone.”

President Erdogan agrees with the last point. He commented on the results of the Moscow talks in a conversation with reporters accompanying him on his return trip from Moscow. “If the parties to the ceasefire agreement in Idlib strictly observe the terms of the agreements, then it will be possible to declare a long-term stabilization of the situation,” Anadolu agency quoted him as saying.

Read more: Refugee crisis: ‘The era of unilateral casualties is over’ Erdogan said

President Erdogan commented on the situation on the border with Greece, which has been open from the Turkish side for refugees traveling to the EU since last week. Despite the agreements on Idlib (namely, the aggravation of the situation in the de-escalation zone earlier became the reason for the “opening” of the border), President Erdogan said: “The question is closed! Refugees have the right to continue to leave Turkish territory. Nobody forcibly expels them from Turkey.” “Ankara has no time for disputes over the migration issue with Athens,” he snapped.

Such a position did not find understanding among the participants in the emergency meeting of the EU foreign ministers, gathered yesterday in Croatia. In a final statement, they called on Ankara to fulfill its obligations in 2016 to deter migrants, and “resolutely rejected Turkey’s use of migration pressure for political purposes.”

Ministers called the situation prevailing on the external borders of the EU unacceptable. “The European Union and its member states are determined to effectively protect their external borders,” they announced, making the reservation that they admit: Turkey itself faced a migration burden and was forced to accept 3.7 million migrants and refugees.

Far more decisively than in the final statement, certain European politicians, for example, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz, formulated their position. “We are experiencing an organized attack on Greece by Turkey and President Erdogan. Europe should not succumb to this pressure,” he said in an interview with Funke media group. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias made the expectedly tough comments: “We see a massive movement of migrants towards the Greek and European borders. These are migrants who have lived in Turkey for many years. We have all the evidence that this movement was created and organized by Turkey. And I will say firmly that the EU will not allow human suffering to be used for its own purposes.”

The head of the Turkish Ministry of Internal Affairs, Suleiman Soilu, said that 142 thousand people had already left the country. And in Greece they claim that they successfully prevent attempts to illegally cross the border. “When Mr. Erdogan says that 100 thousand migrants and refugees have moved from Turkey to Europe, and no one sees them, then the credibility of him is reduced to zero,” said Stelios Petsas, representative of the Greek Cabinet of Ministers, on Antenna TV channel. “For us the best answer, apart from rebuttals, is the reality itself. ”

Read more: Refugee crisis: Turkey sends special forces to the border with Greece

One way or another, no one argues that the humanitarian situation is becoming increasingly alarming. Stefano Argenziano, Operational Coordinator of Doctors Without Borders in Greece, told Kommersant: “It has been almost four years since the EU and Turkey made a political deal in exchange for human lives. We again see that EU members are more likely to do everything to restrain the flow of refugees at all costs than to provide the most necessary assistance to men, women and children in need. This worsens their situation.”

According to Kommersant’s interlocutor, “in recent days this has led to the death of a child, the use of tear gas against people on the land borders and the emergence of reports that the coast guard is particularly cruel in opposing ships in distress, instead of helping them”.

According to Stefano Argenziano, the Greek authorities and the EU as a whole should “immediately take measures to defuse the situation” and respect the refugees’ right to asylum.

Otherwise, Kommersant’s source warned that squeezing refugees towards Turkey “will lead to even greater chaos, loss of life at sea and escalation of violence, as well as exacerbate the humanitarian catastrophe”.


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