ATHENS – Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias has asked for a critical meeting of European Union foreign chiefs over a rekindled refugee and migrant crisis when Turkey opened its borders and sent thousands toward Greece.
With the New Democracy government already under fire for its handling of a crisis that was ratcheted up after the Conservatives won July 7, 2019 snap elections, ousting the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, the dilemma worsened with Turkey opening the gates.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, furious over the death of 33 Turkish soldiers in an area of northern Syria they had invaded, unleashed the hordes on the EU as he had long threatened to do.
There are some 5.5 million in Turkey who had gone there fleeing war and strife in their homelands, including Afghanistan and Turkey, but also economic migrants from other regions who want to get to the EU.
The bloc, however, has closed its borders to them and other countries reneged on promises to help take some of the overload, dumping the problem largely on Greece which is holding about 100,000 in detention centers and camps, including 42,000 on islands near Turkey.
Dendias, said Kathimerini, contacted the EU’ High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Josep Borrell Fontelles, whom he asked to convene an extraordinary meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council.
Dendias also talked on the phone with Bulgaria’s Ekaterina Zakharieva, North Macedonia’s Nikola Dimitrov, Austria’s Alexander Schallenberg and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu – who mocked him in a tweet.
Apart from Cavusoglu, Dendias discussed with the others how to deal with what could be a massive surge of perhaps hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trying to to get into the EU, which had closed its borders to them, and using Greece as the channel.
The EU, which had tread softly with Erdogan fearing he would do what he just did, gave verbal support to Greece and Bulgaria but has no military and no way to stop the refugees and migrants except for press release entreaties that haven’t worked yet.
The office of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel said, representing the heads of state of the 27 member states, said in a statement, that he “has .been in close contact with PM Mitsotakis and PM Borissov to follow the migration situation. The EU is actively engaged to uphold the EU-Turkey Statement and to support Greece and Bulgaria to protect the EU’s external borders.”
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a hardliner against refugees and migrants, also tweeted his support.
“A situation like 2015 must never be repeated. Our goal must be to properly protect the EU’s external borders (and) stop illegal migrants there…Austria is also ready to support the countries on the external border with additional police officers, as Interior Minister @karlnehammer emphasized yesterday. If the protection of the EU’s external border is unsuccessful, Austria will protect its borders,” Kurtz said.
Turkey’s borders to Europe were closed to migrants under an accord between Turkey and the EU that drastically slowed a 2015-16 migration crisis when more than a million people crossed into Europe by foot and came to Greek islands.
Cavusoglu was more provocative after Dendias tweeted that Greece’s response has been one of self-restrained and that “respect for international law is stronger than any delinquency.”
In response, Cavusoglu tweeted: “Look who’s lecturing us on international law! They’re shamelessly throwing tear gas bombs on thousands of innocents piled at their gates. We don’t have an obligation to stop people leaving our country but #Greece has the duty to treat them as human beings!”
That was in reference to Greek police said firing tear gas at migrants and refugees who tried to cross the northern land border with Turkey as the crisis intensified with New Democracy also facing fierce resistance from island officials and residents over plans to build detention centers to vet refugees and migrants deemed ineligible for sanctuary.