Turkey’s Erdoğan buses migrants to border as trump card against EU – Asia Times

Migrants who wish to cross from Turkey to Europe are Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s trump card as Turkey strives to gain a new migration deal with the European Union before the European Council summit on March 26, the Asia Times said.

Migrants interviewed by the newspaper said they had been taken to the Greek border on free buses and, once they arrived, transported between border checkpoints by people smugglers.

“When we heard the news circulating about the Turkish government’s decision to open the doors of immigration to Europe, we immediately rushed to go to Istanbul. Despite us not having a kimlik (Turkish identity) card, or any permission to travel, they allowed us to board Turkish buses with our Syrian identity cards,” said Ahmed, a native of Homs in Syria.

He went on to say the group of migrants had been taken to a military checkpoint in Edirne, Turkey’s northwestern province bordering Europe, where more busloads of refugees arrived before being led to the border by a Turkish police car.

Migrants were beaten back by Greek police, but the Turkish police did not allow them to leave the border area, forcing them to try to cross again the next day, Ahmed said.

Meanwhile, people smugglers offered to take some of the migrants across the border in exchange for money while Turkish gendarmerie officers looked on, he said.

Turkish authorities began encouraging migrants to make the journey to areas of the country bordering Europe after Feb. 27, when an attack by the Syrian government killed dozens of Turkish troops in Idlib, northwest Syria, threatening to send the conflict there spiralling out of control.

Turkey already hosts an estimated 3.7 million asylum seekers from Syria, and more than 1 million more have been displaced to areas near the Turkish border in Idlib. A previous deal signed with the EU in 2016 promised Turkey 6 billion euros to deal with the migrants, but Erdoğan has repeatedly said that Turkey has not received the money in full, and the EU has not made good on other conditional parts of that deal, including granting Turks visa-free travel in Europe.

Erdoğan visited Brussels on Monday for talks with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, but left without reaching a new agreement. The European side is believed to be angry with what it sees as Turkey’s creation of a crisis on the border to put pressure on Europe.

But the Turkish leader will continue to play that card ahead of the migration summit he has organised with European leaders next week, as migrants continue to mass on Turkey’s border with Greece.