WASHINGTON: Greece’s migration minister said that Turkey needs to stop “blackmail” if it wants more EU aid, saying its loaded language had prompted a spike in movement toward Greek shores.
Speaking to AFP on a visit to Washington, Giorgos Koumoutsakos voiced alarm over threats by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials to “open the gates” to Europe if it does not provide more support.
When Turkey “keeps repeating that we’re going to open the floodgates, what they (migrants) do is they move closer to the floodgates waiting for them to open,” said Koumoutsakos, citing a 240 percent increase in migrant arrivals on Greek shores since May.
Koumoutsakos said that Greece nonetheless wanted the European Union to “positively consider” Turkey’s request for assistance beyond the six billion euros ($6.6 billion) committed in 2016 to stop migrants.
“But the fact that Turkey asked for this money by blackmail or threats does not create the necessary political climate for the Europeans to decide to give the money,” he said.
“Europe cannot act under threats or blackmail. As Europeans should understand the situation that the Turks are faced with, Ankara should on its part realize that this is not the way to deal with Europe,” he said.
Conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who took power in July elections, has pledged a tougher approach on migration than the previous leftist government, which allowed refugees from Syria and other troubled countries to land.
Greece on Wednesday said it would overhaul its overcrowded camps on its islands facing Turkey, with asylum-seekers now to be locked up until they are either granted refugee status or rejected and sent back to Turkey.
Some 3.6 million Syrian refugees are living in Turkey after a brutal civil war engulfed their country, and Greece is the key transit point into the European Union.
Greece’s tightening controls have been criticized by human rights groups as inhumane.
Koumoutsakos defended the steps, saying that ordinary Greeks on islands had migration fatigue and that, in contrast with the previous government of Alexis Tsipras, “we are looking not only at the humanitarian aspect, but the security aspect.”
Koumoutsakos said he discussed Greece’s stance with US lawmakers as well as Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security.
Immigration is a signature issue for President Donald Trump, who has vowed to build a wall on the Mexican border and whose administration has tried to discourage the arrival of migrants from violence-ravaged Central America by separating parents from their children.
Koumoutsakos said that Greece was seeking “enhanced cooperation” with the United States, including on border control, but that the two countries’ situations were dissimilar.
Turkey — angered by criticism of its assault on Kurdish fighters in Syria — has also threatened to send fighters from the Islamic State group captured in Syria back to their European countries of origin even if their governments do not want them.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has said that Turkey cannot be “a hotel” for the extremists.