EU immigration conundrum

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European Union countries offered further funding for border policing in Greece and humanitarian aid in Idlib, Syria, but are in a bind over Turkey averting a mass influx of migrants.

EU interior ministers met 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 fighting in Syria – backed away from a 2016 deal with the EU to keep refugees and migrants away from Europe.

In a joint statement, EU ministers recognised “the increased migratory burden and risks Turkey is facing” and denounced “Turkey’s use of migratory pressure for political purposes.”

“This situation at EU external borders is not acceptable,” they said, calling on Ankara to stick to the 2016 pact.

Greek riot police used water cannon and teargas against migrants at the frontier, while the EU was sounding out President Tayyip Erdogan on demands in exchange for Ankara keeping refugees at bay.

“Turkey is not an enemy, but people are not weapons either,” EU top migration official, Margaritis Schinas, said explaining  700 million euros worth of extra EU funding for Greece would fortify the bloc’s external border.

The EU is preparing to offer 60 million euros in new humanitarian aid to Idlib, diplomats said. The city is the latest flashpoint in the nine-year-old war in Syria, where Russia-backed Syrian forces fight rebels supported by Turkey.

Humanitarian efforts to support nearly a million people who fled fighting have been overwhelmed, said UN aid chief, Mark Lowcock.

TURKEY

EU member states are divided over Turkey. Greece and Cyprus push a tough line, focusing on border tensions and condemning what the bloc sees as Erdogan’s migration “blackmail”.

Others are willing to offer aid to support some 3.7 million Syrian refugees stranded in Turkey, on top of six billion euros granted in 2016.

The EU is desperate to avoid a repeat of 2015 and 2016, when more than a million refugees arrived, overwhelming security and welfare systems and fuelling support for euro-sceptic and nationalist groups across the bloc.

EU ties with Turkey, a NATO ally, are strained over human rights and security issues, as well as Ankara’s hydrocarbon drilling in east Mediterranean.

With bitter divisions damaging bloc unity, the EU turned to Turkey to prevent arrivals – and put itself at the mercy of Erdogan.

Human rights groups decried Athens’ hard-nosed action on the border and its decision to suspend asylum claims, but the EU expressed solidarity with Greece.

“The right to asylum does not mean Erdogan can send as many migrants he wants into the EU,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told journalists.