Migrant crisis at the border between Turkey and Greece during coronavirus emergency

Employment and Social Affairs

Coronavirus spread is overshadowing public opinion attention toward another big issue: thousands of migrants have amassed at the border between Turkey and Greece after Ankara officials said they would no longer work to stop migrants and refugees entering in Europe.

This is basically a decision by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to quit the 2016 agreement with the EU, that “freezed” migrant crisis by closing the Balkans route through 6 billion funds for Turkey that, on the other hand, was obliged to host 4 millions of migrants. Erdogan reiterated that he would keep Turkey’s border open for refugees until the EU had met all his demands. Turkish president even travelled to Brussels to meet top EU officials and is aiming at organizing a summit to redefine the migrant deal with Europe.

Greece, on the other hand, was already used tear gas to stop thousands of migrants trying to break through its territory. “There is no difference between what the Nazis did and those images from the Greek border,” Erdogan accused. Athens has denied using violence and accused Ankara of pushing desperate people into dangerous attempts to enter Europe. “This is no longer a refugee problem. This is a blatant attempt by Turkey to use desperate people to promote its geopolitical agenda and to divert attention from the horrible situation in Syria,” Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told journalists at a joint press conference with the President of European Council and European Parliament, Charles Michel, Ursula von der Leyen and David Sassoli, with whom he toured the Greek-Turkish border.

“Europe will not be blackmailed by Turkey over the refugee issue. We stand ready to support Turkey in dealing with its refugee problem and find a solution to the Syria crisis but not under these circumstances. My duty is to protect the sovereignty of my country,” he asserted adding that “Turkey has turned into an official migrant trafficker”. Greece then announced it will stop accepting new asylum applications for a month and step up border security measures as an increasing number of migrants arrive through Turkey.

Mitsotakis said the national security council had decided to increase the “level of deterrence at our borders to the maximum. “The borders of Greece are the external borders of Europe. We will protect them,” Mitsotakis said. He added that his government had invoked an article of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that calls for the EU to adopt “provisional measures” to support a member country confronted by “an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of nationals of third countries.”

The migrant crisis at the Greek-Turkish border should not turn into a new unnecessary clash between Athens and Ankara: that’s why the EU should be able to mediate without yelling to blackmail. Coronavirus crisis, in this context, represent on the one hand an even bigger threat for the reopening of the so-called Balkan route but is also creating an emergency situation within the EU that is not able to accept Turkey’s pressure and demands.

For the moment the Eu is thus trying to solve some internal issue on migration, also helping Greece. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson announced in Athens that the Union will pay 2,000 euro each to migrants in overcrowded camps on the Greek islands willing to go back to their home countries. She explained it was temporary – open for one month only – and only for migrants who arrived before 1 January 2020. Johansson said that 5,000 migrants would be eligible for the “voluntary return”.

Johansson in Athens also said that she expects a revised framework for migration and asylum replacing the controversial Dublin Regulation will be ready after Easter. According to the Eu commissioner, not everyone will “love” the new framework, but they will be “accepted. Johansonn added that the EU is working to find common ground between member-states with different priorities and a different experience of the migration crisis. Greece has long requested a revision of the Dublin Regulation, which puts the onus of migration on the bloc’s frontline countries, like Greece, Spain and Italy.

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