Turkey and Germany plan to seek help from NATO allies in monitoring Syrian refugees trying to get to Europe across the Aegean Sea, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu said yesterday (8 February).
Speaking at a joint news conference in Ankara with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Davuto?lu said the matter would be jointly raised by the two countries at a meeting of NATO defence ministers on Thursday (11 February).
“Turkey and Germany will together recommend to NATO … NATO becoming involved concerning the consequences of the flow of refugees from Syria,” Davuto?lu said.
“In particular, we will make a joint effort on the effective use of NATO’s observation and monitoring mechanisms on the border and in the Aegean,” he said, giving no further details.
More than 900,000 people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn or impoverished countries arrived in Greece from Turkey last year, often risking their lives to cross the Aegean in overloaded boats. Hundreds have died.
Migrants have entered Europe also via other routes, by sea via Libya and by a northern route through Russia, into Scandinavia. Monitoring those movements is important to efforts to control the flow.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert wrote on Twitter that support for the Turkish coast guard and the European Union’s Frontex border agency would be discussed at a “NATO level”.
— Steffen Seibert (@RegSprecher) February 8, 2016
US President Barack Obama, whose country’s forces dominate the North Atlantic defence alliance, said after a call with the Italian head of state that he wanted to work with NATO allies to address Europe’s refugee crisis.
At the organisation’s Brussels headquarters, a NATO official noted that “assurance measures” agreed on in December to help Turkey deal with the spillover from fighting in Syria and Iraq included more intelligence and surveillance in the region, including naval and air patrols in the eastern Mediterranean.
The official added, however: “NATO is not directly involved in responding to the migration crisis at present.”
Around 30,000 Syrians are at the Turkish border after fleeing a Russia-backed regime offensive on the northern region of Aleppo, Davuto?lu said.
Pressure on Turkey to open its Syria border
With his country facing mounting pressure to open its border, Davuto?lu said the refugees would be admitted if need be, although Turkey should not be expected “to shoulder the refugee issue alone”.
“Around 30,000 Syrians have now massed,” and the border with northwestern Syria remains closed, he said.
Davuto?lu, whose country is hosting 2.7 million Syrian refugees, said Turkey would take refugees “if necessary”.
“Obviously, as always, we will provide for our Syrian brothers and accept them when necessary,” he said.
But he warned: “No one should assume that just because Turkey is taking in all the refugees that it should be expected to shoulder the refugee issue alone.”
The Turkish Ambassador to the EU Selim Yenel told EurActiv in an exclusive interview that it was “ironic” that the Union was asking his country to open its borders, when it was rapidly closing its own.
Merkel’s visit is aimed at pressing Turkey to make good on pledges to do more to reduce the influx of refugees to Europe.
It came as 33 people died off Turkey’s coast attempting to reach Greece in two separate tragedies on Tuesday.
The Turkish government struck a deal with the EU in November to halt the outflow of refugees, in return for €3 billion in financial assistance.
The EU on Wednesday finally reached an agreement on how to finance the deal.
But the deal and the onset of winter do not appear to have deterred the migrants, with boats still arriving on the Greek islands daily.
Davuto?lu said Turkey and Germany would “cooperate better” to make EU’s border agency Frontex more efficient.