BY GABRIELA BACZYNSKA, BRUSSELS (Reuters): European Union countries offered more money on Wednesday to Greece for border policing and for humanitarian aid to Syria’s Idlib in an effort to avert a mass influx of migrants, but were at odds over what to do about Turkey.
EU interior ministers meet in Brussels on Wednesday for emergency talks, to be followed by foreign ministers on Thursday and Friday, as some 25,000 refugees and migrants gather on the Greek border, seeking to cross into Europe.
That came after Turkey – citing the latest fighting in Syria – backed away from a 2016 deal with the EU to keep refugees and migrants away from Europe.
“Turkey is not an enemy, but people are not weapons either,” the EU’s top migration official, Margaritis Schinas, said in explaining that 700 million euros’ worth of extra funding for Greece would fortify the EU’s external border there.
Greek riot police used water cannon and tear gas on Wednesday against migrants at the border, while a top EU official met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to sound out his demands in exchange for Ankara’s reverting to keeping refugees in Turkey.
The EU was also preparing to offer 60 million euros in new humanitarian aid to Idlib, diplomats said. The city has been the latest flashpoint in the nine-year-old war in Syria, where Russia-backed Syrian forces are fighting rebels supported by Turkey.
Humanitarian efforts to support nearly 1 million people who fled the fighting have been overwhelmed, Mark Lowcock, the U.N. aid chief, has said.
EU member states are at odds over Turkey, however. Greece and Cyprus are demanding a tough line, focusing on border tensions and condemning what the bloc sees as Erdogan’s migration “blackmail”.
Others are willing to offer further aid to support the more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees stranded in Turkey, on top of the 6 billion euros already granted in 2016.
The EU is desperate to avoid any repeat of 2015 and 2016, when more than a million refugees arrived on its soil, overwhelming security and welfare systems and fuelling support for euro-sceptic and nationalist groups across the bloc.
But EU’s ties with Turkey, a NATO ally, are strained over human rights and security issues, as well as Ankara’s hydrocabons drilling in east Mediterranean.
At the same time, EU countries have been at loggerheads since 2015 over how to share out migrants arriving in the bloc, leaving themselves at the mercy of Turkey.
Human rights groups decried Athens’ hard-nosed action on the border and its decision to suspend accepting asylum claims, but the EU expressed solidarity with Greece.
“The right to asylum does not mean that Erdogan can send how many migrants he wants into the European Union,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told journalists on Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by John Chalmers and Francesco Guarascio; writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by William Maclean, Larry Kiing)