BERLIN – As thousands of refugees and migrants were stuck in limbo on border between Greece and Turkey, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis headed to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due in Brussels to meet European Union leaders upset he has opened the gates.
Reluctant to get tough on Erdogan after he made good on his repeated threats to send waves of refugees and migrants to the EU’s border with Greece and Greek islands, EU leaders instead have mulled giving him more money to keep in place a now-broken 2016 swap deal.
The two leaders won’t meet after Erdogan said he would refuse to be with Mitsotakis even for diplomatic photo opportunities where leaders shake hands, that routine action off the table as relations worsen between the countries.
When Greek Foreign Ministry and state intelligence sources confirmed that Erdogan would send refugees and migrants to the border after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an area of Syria they had invaded, making the Turkish leader fear his country would get another surge of Syrians, the New Democracy government reacted by closing the border.
Mitsotakis also reached out to European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, who came to the border area along the Evros River and expressed support for Greece.
Without a military, the EU’s only weapons are political and diplomatic but no sanctions have been issued against Erdogan and Turkey for violating the swap agreement that was already in limbo, with Turkey taking back only about 2,000 refugees and migrants in almost four years.
Greece is overwhelmed with more than 100,000 of them, including 42,000 on islands near the Turkish coast as Erdogan has let human traffickers keep sending more and the EU doing little in response beyond issuing press releases and tweets.
Mitsotakis, said the paper, wants the EU to revise the Dublin Regulation which stipulates refugees and migrants can see asylum only in the first country in which they land – almost always Greece, Malta, Spain or Italy – and for other countries to take in some of the overload although they had already reneged on promises to do so.
Erdogan is expected to demand more EU support for Turkey’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the report said, with the bloc having held back some 3 billion euros ($3.41 billion) of 6 billion euros ($6.82 billion) under the agreement.
Erdogan called on Greece to open its borders and allow the migrants to move on to other European countries.
“These people won’t stay (in your country,) they will move to other European countries,” Erdogan said in Constantinople. “Why don’t you open your gates too, let them go to other countries, and rid yourself of this burden,” he said.
Erdogan’s decision to visit Brussels will come just after EU foreign ministers meeting in Croatia criticized Turkey, saying it was using the migrants’ desperation “for political purposess,” but the EU also set to offer him more money to back off while insisting it won’t submit to blackmail.
Mitsotakis earlier told CNN there was “a conscious attempt by Turkey to use migrants and refugees as geopolitical pawns to promote its own interests,” and as he declared the swap deal dead, with Greece turning to closing and guarding its borders.
“We’re not the ones escalating this conflict but we have every right… to protect our sovereign borders,” he said.
Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri, who heads the EU’s border patrol, told the paper that another 100 guards would be sent to the Greek-Turkish border where tension was rising and a video showed a Turkish vehicle largely paid for by the EU pulling down fences.
Leggeri said he received telephone calls from Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis and Shipping and Island Policy Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis that gave his agency an alert to act.