Greece says Turkey should stop blackmailing EU for migrant aid

Turkey should stop blackmailing the European Union to get more financial assistance for refugees, Greece’s migration minister said, claiming that Ankara’s loaded language had encouraged migrants to move toward Greek shores, AFP reported on Thursday.

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,” minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos told AFP during a visit to Washington D.C. He cited a 240 percent increase in migrant arrivals to Greece since May. 

The Turkish government constantly accuses the EU of failing to comply with the terms of a 2016 deal over refugees, threatening to open its borders to allow them to flow into Europe. The European Union has made some of the financial assistance conditional on steps including Turkey improving its judicial system.

Koumoutsakos said that Greece nonetheless wanted the EU to positively consider Turkey’s request for assistance beyond the six billion euros ($6.6 billion) committed in 2016 to curb migrant inflows.

“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 realise that this is not the way to deal with Europe.”

The new Greek government under conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who took office in July elections, follows a stricter policy against migrants. 

Greece said on Wednesday that 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, French radio station RFI reported. Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees. 

The move was designed to show Greece’s determination in dealing with the crisis, Greek Defence Minister Alikivaiadis Stefanis said at a news conference, according to RFI.

Greece plans to hire some 400 additional guards for the land border with Turkey and 800 for the islands. It will shut down three camps on the islands of Lesbos (Lesvos), Chios and Samos, which currently house over 27,000 people. The camps will be replaced with new closed facilities for identification, relocation and deportation, RFI said.