Erdogan opened the border for refugees. What EU should expect?
Erdogan claims that Turkish border guards allowed 76,000 migrants into the EU, while in Greece and Bulgaria these data do not yet confirm.
Ankara said that Turkish border guards allowed over 75 thousand migrants into the EU. Until 10:00 Moscow time on Sunday, March 1, the border in the province of Edirne adjacent to Greece and Bulgaria was crossed by 76,358 people, Turkish Interior Minister Suleiman Soilu said on Twitter.
At the same time, neither Sofia nor Athens has yet confirmed the penetration of a large number of illegal migrants on their territory.
According to the Ministry of Migration and Asylum of Greece, the country’s police prevented 9600 migrants from crossing the border from Turkey. In addition, authorities in Athens reported that, contrary to fears, the night of March 1 at the border went quietly. Greece again strengthened its units along the border with Turkey due to the threat of the entry of thousands of illegal immigrants into the country. In addition, patrols were strengthened in the straits between the Greek islands and the Turkish coast of the Aegean Sea, Athens further reported.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), on the Turkish side of the 212-kilometer border with Greece in the evening of February 29 there were more than 13 thousand people hoping to infiltrate the EU after Ankara refused to restrain this flow.
Meanwhile, Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, called on the EU to refrain from harshly responding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision not to restrain refugees on the EU border. His statement was made in an “extremely threatening form”, but in essence is a “cry for help” addressed to the European Union, a German conservative politician told Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in an interview.
“We should understand this in this way, and not as a provocation,” says Röttgen, who is one of the candidates for the post of chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), German Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to him, Erdogan’s attempt to cooperate in the Syrian conflict with Russia failed, and this is what he is trying to convey to the Europeans now. Röttgen called on the EU to provide Turkey with additional financial assistance and expand other support measures.
On the eve of Erdogan announced his intention to allow Syrian refugees to the EU countries in defiance of an agreement with the EU. “Yesterday we opened the gate,” he said on Saturday, February 29, in Istanbul. Accusing the EU of not complying with the refugee agreement, Erdogan emphasized that Turkey cannot feed so many people.
In response to a statement by the Turkish leader, the Greek and Bulgarian authorities strengthened border guard measures. In Athens, they announced the successful prevention of organized mass border crossing by Turkish migrants. Greece intends to contain the wave of refugees at all costs, said Stelios Petsas, a cabinet spokesman in Athens. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised Bulgaria and Greece border support.
The agreement concluded between Ankara and Brussels in March 2016 suggests that migrants from Syria going to the EU countries will not pass through the Turkish borders. For this, the European Union promised the Turkish side financial support.
According to relevant UN data, Turkey has accepted about 3.6 million refugees from Syria. These numbers have risen recently against the backdrop of a Russian-supported offensive by the Syrian government forces in Idlib. In addition to the Syrians, in Turkey there is a significant number of forced migrants from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The authorities of Turkey’s neighboring countries have stepped up border protection. For European countries that have only recently been able to mitigate the effects of the 2014–2015 migration crisis, a new wave of immigration could be a heavy blow.