Turkey accuses EU of ‘betrayal, hypocrisy and selfishness’ over migrant deal amid fears of new refugee crisis and warns: ‘We cannot control millions and millions of people’
- Turkey’s envoy in London said Europe had failed to uphold its 2016 migrant deal
- President Erdogan abandoned the pact last week, sending thousands to Greece
- The crisis could worsen with parts of north-west Syria becoming uninhabitable
Turkey has accused the EU of ‘betrayal, hypocrisy and selfishness’ in an escalating row over the thousands of migrants trying to cross the Greek border.
Ankara’s ambassador in London, Umit Yalcin, said Europe had failed to uphold its side of a 2016 bargain which saw Turkey agree to stem the flow of migrants.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan abandoned the deal last Friday in a move which allowed tens of thousands of people to head for Greece, where police have been struggling to keep them out.
Speaking to Sky News, Yalcin demanded that NATO provide support to Turkey in the Syrian conflict – amid fears that the Assad regime’s onslaught in Idlib is creating another wave of migration towards Europe.
Satellite images have shown parts of Syria becoming uninhabitable with three million people trapped in an ever-shrinking rebel enclave.
‘We cannot control millions and millions of people,’ the ambassador warned.
Migrants and refugees scuffle with riot police on the Greek island of Lesbos yesterday with thousands attempting to cross from Turkey into the EU
Satellite images (similar to this one last year) have shown parts of Syria becoming uninhabitable with three million people trapped in an ever-shrinking rebel enclave
Under the 2016 deal, Turkey agreed to help guard Europe’s border in return for £4.7billion in financial aid.
The deal was intended to stop a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis, during which a million people crossed into Europe, most of them fleeing the Syrian war.
However, Turkey now feels abandoned by Western powers as it fights with Syrian rebels against the Assad regime, and has demanded assistance from NATO as it braces for even more migrants to arrive from Syria.
‘We did our fulfilment of our commitment and they did not do anything,’ ambassador Yalcin said in an interview yesterday.
‘And because of that – enough is enough. We are overloaded. We cannot control millions and millions of people.
‘We only ask for fair and equal responsibility sharing and burden sharing.’
However, he thanked Britain for a ‘show of solidarity and friendship’ after foreign secretary Dominic Raab visited Turkey yesterday.
A riot police officer shouts at a migrant as police tries to disperse a group of migrants outside the port of Mytilene, Greece on Tuesday
A man warms his hands by a fire at a site where refugees and migrants from various countries wait on the Turkish shoreline of the Evros River while waiting to cross by boat to Greece on Tuesday in Edirne, Turkey
Mr Raab threw Turkey an olive branch at a press conference on Tuesday where he hailed the country as a ‘staunch ally in NATO’.
‘I would like to pay tribute to Turkey’s commendable response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria,’ Mr Raab said.
‘For years, Turkey has helped carry the enormous burden of supporting millions of Syrian refugees, and indeed other displaced persons. Often you have felt ignored.
‘The UK remains committed to providing support for both Turkish host communities and Syrian refugees. We know both groups are under sustained pressures.’
Erdogan’s migrant gambit has been met with outrage from EU leaders, including Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz who accused Turkey of ‘blackmail’.
‘The people are being used by President Erdogan as a political football, as weapons and as instruments of pressure on the European Union,’ he said.
Greece said yesterday that it had stopped 24,000 people from crossing into the country.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has vowed to ‘hold the line’ in support of Greece and offered millions of euros to tackle the migration surge.
‘Those who seek to test Europe’s unity will be disappointed,’ von der Leyen said yesterday, standing alongside Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
‘I am fully committed to mobilising all the necessary operational support to the Greek authorities,’ she said, adding that Greece was acting as a ‘shield’ for Europe.
Greek police in riot gear advance to push migrants aways after minor clashes at the port of Mytilene on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece on Monday
A man gestures as migrants and refugees block a road outside the port of Lesbos, one of the islands which migrants are attempting to reach from Turkey
There are fears that the crisis will worsen as fighting in north-west Syria renders large parts of the region uninhabitable.
Satellite imagery analysed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative showed dire conditions in towns and camps in Idlib, where the Assad regime has been pressing a devastating offensive since December.
‘In the areas examined, the researchers estimate that nearly one-third of buildings have been significantly damaged or destroyed,’ said a statement released with the report, which Harvard produced with Save the Children and World Vision.
‘With most of these areas’ inhabitants having fled before or during the offensive, the destruction of homes and vital civilian infrastructure will make it nearly impossible for families to return in the near future,’ the statement added.
The satellite imagery analysed in the report shows agricultural fields filling up with camps for the displaced in a matter of months, as well as levelled villages and towns.
Regime and allied forces backed by Russian air strikes have clawed back significant territory since December, triggering a massive exodus.
Bombing of schools and hospitals has forced civilians to flee town after town, heading towards the Turkish border. Some three million people are now trapped in the ever-shrinking enclave in dire conditions.
Migrants and refugees scuffle with riot police on the Greek Aegean island of Lesbos – with the EU vowing yesterday that it will ‘hold the line’ in defence of Greece
The area still controlled by Turkish-backed rebels and jihadists is roughly the size of Majorca and is the last major opposition bastion in Syria.
‘In the best case scenario, which is an immediate ceasefire, it will take months if not years to first physically rebuild the destroyed civilian infrastructure and then rebuild the trust for these communities to go back home,’ Save the Children spokeswoman Joelle Bassoul said.
A report released Monday by the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria suggested the regime had intentionally targeted civilian infrastructure to scare the population away and facilitate its military reconquest.
‘Attacks carried out by pro-government forces targeted civilian infrastructure, including specially protected objects,’ the UN commission said.
‘As a result, civilian areas were rendered uninhabitable,’ it added, citing the key Idlib province towns of Maaret al-Numan and Khan Sheikhun.
It said the levelling of certain towns was carried out ‘in an apparent effort to accelerate capture of strategic motorways’.
More than half of the nearly one million people displaced over the past three months are children, tens of thousands of whom are sleeping rough in the bitter cold.
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