The European Commission said on Tuesday (24 September) it was aware of the recent increase of migrants coming illegally from Turkey into EU members Bulgaria and Greece, but dismissed any immediate plans for a possible new migration deal with Ankara.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has recently warned of a substantial increase in illegal crossings. Borissov said on 20 September that 440 migrants had been detained after crossing the Turkish border on that same day just until 11.00 a.m.
The situation is similar in Greece. The country’s media report that only in two days more than 750 refugees and migrants have been either rescued from the sea by the coastguard or reached the shores by themselves.
In previous statements, Borissov has said and repeated that thanks to the EU-Turkey agreement of 18 March 2016, Bulgaria enjoyed “zero migration”. The Bulgarian prime minister also posed as an advocate to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, including by organising an EU-Turkey summit during Bulgaria’s EU Presidency, in March 2018.
Under this agreement, the EU paid Turkey the first tranche of €3 billion to re-take migrants crossing from Turkish territory to Greek islands. The second tranche of €3 billion was released later. The EU insists this is not ransom money, but assistance to help Turkey cope with the Syrian refugees.
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Erdoğan claims Turkey had spent $40 billion on refugees and blames the West for not providing sufficient help.
Erdoğan has repeatedly said he would flood Europe with migrants because aid money was not coming.
“We may be forced to do this (open the gates) to get this (international support),” he repeated on 5 September.
The EU says it has fulfilled its promise and the money has been disbursed.
But Borissov seemed to back Erdoğan’s narrative. Speaking in the national parliament, he said the suspension of EU payments to Turkey increases the migratory pressure on Bulgaria, although, in his words, Greece was more affected.
“Obviously the attention is concentrated on Italy and very little attention is given to Bulgaria and Greece”, he added.
Interior ministers from five EU countries made a gesture to the new Italian government this week by agreeing to re-distribute migrants saved at sea in the central Mediterranean.
Asked by EURACTIV if the EU executive was aware of the increased number of migrants arriving in Bulgaria and Greece, Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said:
“Indeed, we are aware of an increase of arrivals in Greece and Bulgaria. However, it must be said that these numbers are much lower than those from before the conclusion of the EU-Turkey agreement”.
She added that the EU Commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, was in contact with the Greek and Bulgarian authorities to see what assistance was needed to help the countries cope with this increased number of arrivals.
In parallel, she said that Avramopoulos was in contact with the Turkish authorities and that he had reconfirmed the EU’s commitment to the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal in all its aspects, including the fund for the Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Asked about the disagreement between Brussels and Ankara about the figures of the money disbursed, she said that €5.6 billion of the total amount of €6 billion had been allocated.
She seemed to explain the discrepancy by saying that some of the money was allocated to long-term programmes whose implementation could last two years or more.
Bertaud also made it clear that the Juncker Commission was not going beyond the second tranche, and any possible discussion about future payments to Turkey would be the responsibility of the new Commission, which is due to take office on 1 November.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]