Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to hold talks with senior European Union officials in Brussels over a refugee crisis unfolding at the Turkish-Greek border, as Germany said the bloc was considering taking in 1,500 child refugees.
Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have been trying to break through the land border between Turkey and Greece for days after Ankara announced it would no longer prevent people from trying to cross into the EU.
Turkey, which hosts approximately four million mostly Syrian refugees, has repeatedly railed against what it describes as unfair burden-sharing following a 2016 with the bloc to halt the influx of refugees into Europe.
Erdogan on Sunday called on Greece to “open the gates” to the refugees after Greek police used tear gas and water cannon in skirmishes with crowds at the border.
“I hope I will return from Belgium with different outcomes,” he said at a speech in Istanbul.
Early on Monday, Germany said the EU was considering taking in up to 1,500 refugee children who are currently housed in Greek camps.
“A humanitarian solution is being negotiated at the European level for a ‘coalition of the willing’ to take in these children,” the government said in a statement.
Criticising Ankara, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said “negotiating on the backs of the weakest” would not yield the desired result.
“If there is a shortage of money for providing essential humanitarian aid to refugees, whether in Turkey, Idlib or Jordan and Lebanon, we (the EU) will never refuse to talk,” Maas told Funke newspapers on Sunday. “But that depends on Turkey sticking to its side of the bargain.”
Barend Leyts, spokesman for European Council President Charles Michel, posted on Twitter that the Erdogan will meet Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to discuss “migration, security, stability in the region and the crisis in Syria”.
President @eucopresident and President @vonderleyen will meet with President @RTErdogan of Turkey on Monday at 18h in Brussels to discuss EU-Turkey matters, including migration, security, stability in the region and the crisis in Syria.
— Barend Leyts (@BarendLeyts) March 8, 2020
‘EU did not fulfil commitments’
In March 2016, Turkey and the EU agreed upon a deal in which Brussels would provide billions of euros in aid to help Ankara finance housing, schools and medical centres for the refugees it hosts on its soil.
But Ankara has repeatedly accused the bloc of not fulfilling its comittments under the deal, including visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and an enhanced customs union.
“We have fulfilled the obligations of the agreement we have made with the EU. However, the EU did not fulfil its commitments except for minimal contributions … I hope we will get different results this time,” Erdogan said.
In a separate development, Erdogan on Friday ordered the Turkish coastguard to prevent risky Aegean sea crossings after more than hundreds of refugees and migrants landed on Lesbos and four other Aegean islands from Turkey over the past week.
The land crossing on the Turkish side of the border with Greece remains open.
Ankara also wants more European support in Syria, where its troops are supporting rebels against Russian-backed Syrian government forces.
Erdogan has felt extra pressure as nearly a million people in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib fled towards the Turkish border during the recent Syrian government assault, which is backed by Russia.
But the Turkish president and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed to a ceasefire on Thursday after Turkey launched an offensive against Damascus following the deaths of dozens of Turkish soldiers in recent attacks blamed on the government.