Turkey's handling of refugee crisis 'unacceptable', Merkel says

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned on Monday Ankara's decision to ignore the terms of a 2016 refugee agreement, effectively causing thousands to gather at the Greek-Turkish border, as "unacceptable," German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported. 

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last month his country's borders with Europe were open, making good on a longstanding threat to let refugees into the continent as thousands of migrants gathered at Turkey’s northwestern border with Greece. Clashes have erupted at the border between Greek police and migrants.

The move is in violation of a 2016 agreement with the EU, aiming to cut the influx of Syrian refugees arriving in Greece. Accordingly, the EU promised the allocation of €3 billion in aid to Turkey to help migrants. The deal also included the end of visa restrictions applied to Turkish citizens when travelling to Europe as of June 2016, but the visa restrictions still remain.

Turkey's approach "is unacceptable, and so I strongly advocate the EU-Turkey agreement being taken into a new phase," Deutsche Welle quoted Merkel as saying while speaking on Monday at the German-Hellenic Economic Forum in Berlin.

Conceding that Turkey bears a "great burden" with its population of more than 3.5 million refugees, who are mostly Syrian, Merkel said Ankara "can expect no understanding if it tries to solve its own problems on the back of refugees who then get stranded in a dead end at the Turkish-Greek border."

The German chancellor went on to say Greece "deserves our full solidarity and our full support," but adding it was important to avoid situations like those during the migrant crisis of 2015.

Erdoğan arrived in Brussels on Monday to discuss the unfolding refugee and migrant crisis.

Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis welcomed the Turkish president’s visits, saying he hoped it would lead to "the start of de-escalation of the crisis," Deutsche Welle reported.

"There must be a concrete change in Ankara's policy," Mitsotakis said. 

"Greece has always ... recognised and does recognise that Turkey has a crucial role to play in the management of the migration problem, and it needs Europe's help to do it," Mitsotakis added. "But this cannot happen ... under conditions of threats and blackmail, using desperate people as pawns."

Turkey has been a key transit point for illegal migrants, many of who are fleeing persecution, as they look to cross into Europe. In 2019, more than 60,000 refugees from Turkey landed on the shores of Greece's Aegean islands, and the Greek government expected more than 100,000 in 2020.

The Greek government on Sunday asked for the EU's help to secure its borders and announced that it had stopped accepting asylum claims for a month due to the increased influx.