ATHENS – Signaling what could be a diplomatic break over a growing refugee crisis with thousands massed at the borders, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly said he won’t be in a photograph with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis or talk to him.
He also was said to have told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that a 2016 swap deal with the European Union in which Turkey would take back refugees and migrants deemed ineligible for asylum isn’t working and needs to be changed.
Mitsotakis agreed with that, telling CNN that, “Right now, let’s be honest, the agreement is dead. And it’s dead because Turkey has decided to completely violate the agreement because of what happened in Syria,” he added.
That was in reference to Erdogan sending refugees and migrants to the northern border with Greece along the Evros River, encouraging them to leave after he said Turkey would no longer hold them back as required under the deal.
They had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria, where the death of 33 Turkish soldiers in an area they had invaded led Erdogan to say that could bring a spike to his country and he wouldn’t deal with them anymore.
That has created a border standoff, with Greek army units and riot police firing tear gas across the border into Turkey where the refugees have congregated and reports of return fire into Greece.
Erdogan said of Mitsotakis, “I don’t want to be in the same place or in the same photograph as him,” media reports saids, with the Turkish leader saying that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov tried to convince him to arrange a trilateral summit, but he refused, accusing the Greek government of “chasing” refugees.
Erdogan later repeated charges that Greek border were shooting migrants at the border – offering no proof beyond his word – and said what the Greek Coast Guard was “sinking boats” of refugees and migrants trying to reach Greek islands with no reports it had.
Greece’s New Democracy said it was all fake news and a disinformation campaign by Turkey as the swap deal has unraveled, leading Greece to join the rest of the EU in closing its borders, suspending asylum procedures and deporting those who have sneaked across.
Mitsotakis is to meet with Merkel in Berlin on March 6 to talk about the common European asylum policy under which refugees and migrants can only seek sanctuary in the first country in which they land, almost always Greece as they can’t land first in Germany.
The crisis erupted almost as soon as Greek and Turkish officials finished confidence building measures (CBM’s) and agreed to keep open lines of communication that now seem to have been strained, if not cut now.