ANKARA – After European Union leaders failed to strike a deal with him to close the border to refugees and migrants he sent there to get into Greece, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan instead said he will keep allowing it.
That violates a 2016 swap deal with the EU under which Turkey was supposed to contain millions of refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria’s civil war, where the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers led Erdogan to fear another influx and said he would open Turkey’s gates.
Unwilling to sanction Turkey or Erdogan, the EU instead said it would mull meeting his terms, although insisting there would be no giving in to “blackmail,” as he demanded some 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) being held back to help Turkey deal with refugees and migrants be released.
At the same time, he invited EU leaders for a top-level meeting in Constantinople although he had made it clear he would no longer talk with Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, nor pose for photos with him.
That would be March 17 and would include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and possibly British Prime Minister Boris Johnson although the United Kingdom, a preferred destination for refugees and migrants, has left the EU.
Erdogan wants the 2016 swap deal revised, including for accelerated accession talks for Turkey to join the EU, which it has been trying to do since 2005, the process faltering after he purged civil society, the military, courts and jailed journalists following a failed July 2016 coup attempt against him.
“The EU leaders accepted that Turkey had fulfilled its responsibilities under the March 18 (2016) agreement and that the EU had acted slowly,” Erdogan said, adding that technical and political teams would offer alternatives.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, will try to come up with proposals in time for a summit of EU leaders on March 26, Erdogan also said.
Greece has sent troops to the border area and used tear gas and water cannon against the migrants, but the pressure has continued. Greece said it stopped 963 illegal migrants in the 24 hours to 6 a.m. on March 10 and arrested 52.
Erdogan, speaking to reporters on his plane back to Turkey after discussing the migrant crisis in Brussels with top EU officials, repeated his call on Greece to open its border, said the news agency Reuters in a feature.
“We are not thinking of closing these gates. Our proposal to Greece is to open the gates. These people won’t stay in Greece. Let them cross from Greece into other European countries,” he said, calling for a “just, humane sharing” of the burden, the report added.
As he spoke, Greek riot police and Army units continued to guard the border where there have been clashes as refugees and migrants keep trying to get in. Greek military vehicles and soldiers on foot patrolled along the wire and steel fence that separates the Kastanies crossing from Turkey’s border post at Pazarkule, the report added.
Turkey’s migration authority said it had filed two applications to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming a migrant was killed by Greek forces and a family it said was pushed back from the border, with no proof offered for either case before the New York Times reported one had been shot and killed and Greece was operating a secret refugee and migrant site and deporting them.