Turkey, EU to Hold Talks Amid Standoff Over Migrants

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is heading to Brussels on Monday for talks with European Union officials amid a standoff between Ankara and Brussels over sharing of responsibility for refugees and migrants.

Thousands of migrants have massed at Turkey’s land border with EU-member Greece after Erdogan’s government made good on a long-standing threat and announced that Turkey — which is home to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees — would no longer prevent migrants and refugees from crossing over into EU countries.

Erdogan has demanded that Europe shoulder more of the burden of caring for refugees. He has accused the EU of not meeting its obligations, including failing to pay money promised to Turkey under a 2016 EU-Turkish deal to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. The EU says it is disbursing the funds.

The Turkish leader is scheduled to meet with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to discuss the 2016 deal. Erdogan was also scheduled to meet with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, his office said.

The 2016 deal, which slashed the number of migrants arriving in Europe, called for Turkey to halt the flow of Europe-bound migrants and refugees in exchange for up to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in aid for Syrian refugees on its territory, fast-track EU membership and visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens.

A high-level Turkish official said the sides would discuss a possible revision of the 2016 deal. It wasn’t clear if an agreement would emerge on Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.

Erdogan was also expected to raise concerns over alleged violence carried out by Greek authorities as they push back the migrants.

Greece has deployed riot police and border guards to repel people trying to enter the country and the Greek border area has since seen violent confrontations between them and the migrants. On Saturday, youths threw rocks at Greek police and tried to break down a border fence.

Many migrants have alleged mistreatment in the hands of Greek police, and Turkey says two migrants were killed in violence along the border. Greece has denied the accusations.

EU foreign ministers have criticized Turkey, saying it is using the migrants’ desperation “for political purposes.” EU countries are still dealing with the political fallout from a wave of mass migration five years ago.

Thousands of migrants have slept in terrible conditions in makeshift camps near the Greek border since the Turkish government said they were free to go, waiting for the opportunity to enter Greece.