Greece’s migration minister has warned that a back-up strategy – a Plan B – is needed in case the EU-Turkey refugee deal collapses amid escalating tensions between the bloc and Ankara.
In an interview with the German daily Bild, Yannis Mouzalas said, “We are very worried. We need a Plan B in any case”.
In March, Hungary made a similar appeal, stressing that the EU should be ready to “defend herself alone” if the deal with Ankara does not work out.
Greece has become a key gateway country for migrants seeking to reach Europe. At the height of Europe’s migrant crisis last year, thousands of asylum seekers landed every day on Greek Aegean islands close to the coast of Turkey.
Arrival numbers have since plunged following an EU-Turkey deal reached in March, in which Ankara agreed to take back Syrian migrants arriving in Greece in exchange for billions of euros in aid and visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens.
But relations between Ankara and the West have deteriorated over criticism against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s massive crackdown following a failed coup.
Mouzalas said that other EU countries should commit to homing a larger number of immigrants. EURACTIV has contacted the Greek government to see if Mouzalas’ comments represent official policy.
“Refugees and immigrants should be distributed equally to all member states of the EU, and not in specific countries,” he said.
In April, the European Commission put forward plans to revamp EU asylum policy after member states missed their targets for relocating refugees from countries bearing the brunt of the crisis across the bloc.
In September 2015, EU leaders committed to relocate 160,000 people from Italy and Greece by September 2017. In total just 3,056 people have been relocated (2,213 from Greece and 843 from Italy).
Erdoğan on Tuesday (2 August) has accused the EU of not having disbursed the financial aid it had promised, or delivering visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens traveling to Europe.
“We are the ones who are protecting the European Union by sheltering three million Syrians and Iraqis,” he said. “You cannot demand the refugee return agreement without fulfilling your obligations. Sorry, but we are not a country that you can boss about,” he added.
European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker recently admitted that the EU-Turkey refugee deal could collapse.
“The risk is great. The success of the pact so far is fragile. President Erdogan has several times hinted he wants to terminate the agreement,” he said.
He said if the deal failed “then you can expect that again refugees are standing at the gates of Europe”.
European Commission spokesperson for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Tove Ernst said that the EU remained committed to the EU-Turkey refugee deal but added that the challenge was greater than that agreement alone.
“We have a comprehensive European Agenda on Migration addressing all aspects of the migration challenge. We have spent the past 15 months putting in place the tools needed to future-proof our systems, both internally and externally,” Ernst said.
“Our assistance to Greece and other countries under pressure continues, our measures to tackle the root causes of migration and preparations for the rapid roll-out of the new European Border and Coast Guard which was approved by the European Parliament and Council before the summer, among many other measures,” she added.
According to Greek data, migration flows from Turkey to Greece have intensified since the failed coup attempt in Ankara.
The data showed that in the period 11-15 July – the date when the coup attempt took place – a total of 292 new arrivals landed in Greece.
From 17-23 July, 382 new arrivals were recorded, and in the last five days (24-28 July) that number reached 547.
Hungary’s State Secretary for European Affairs Takács Szabolcs, said that if the EU-Turkey deal improved protection of the bloc’s external borders, Budapest would support it.
“But the devil lies in the details, so we have to see what we can agree on,” he said.
“If the EU and the member states live up to the expectations deriving from the EU-Turkey deal, then there might be a good solution […] However, we have always stressed at the same time that the EU should be able to defend herself alone if it’s necessary,” he said.
He added that if a deal with Turkey didn’t work then the EU “should have a viable and sustainable solution”.
Hungary plans a referendum on the EU plans to resettle refugees in countries such as Greece and Italy in other member states.