Germany warned on Tuesday (8 October) of a repeat of the chaotic influx of migrants that caught the European Union unprepared in 2015, while Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus sounded the alarm over a resurgence of arrivals from neighbouring Turkey.
EU interior ministers met to discuss migration as Greece has again become the main gateway to Europe for people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, with UN data showing nearly 45,600 arrivals by sea so far this year.
In particular, ministers expressed concerns that a threat by Turkey to send its troops into northeast Syria might provoke a new wave of refugees to Europe. Data show that the so-called eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece has once again become the main
channel for asylum-seekers reaching Europe.
Officials in the EU said that if Turkey does invade part of Syria, many of the four million refugees Turkey is hosting — most of them Syrians – may decide to head to Europe to avoid being forcibly pushed back into their unstable homeland.
“I hope there won’t be an operation,” Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, told reporters.
“But imagine that you’re a refugee in Turkey, you’re Syrian — the risk exists that you might be transported one day… into northeast Syria. That’s a factor that could generate a wave towards Europe,” he said.
Turkey has plans to resettle 2 million of the Syrian refugees on its territory in a 35-km deep corridor inside Syria along the 480-km border, replacing roughly one million of Kurdish population living on the same territory. There is an estimated 1.8 million Kurds in Syria. The Kurds are warning of ethnic cleansing and all-out war.
“For Greece, the spike of the increase of the flows between May and today is an increase of 240%. You can imagine the scale of the challenge,”said Greece’s alternate minister for migration, Giorgios Koumoutsakos.
Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus delivered a joint statement at the meeting calling attention to the eastern Mediterranean route.
It said: “Geopolitical factors, including conflicts in the broader area, particularly in Syria, entail that we will most likely see a continuation of this alarming trend in the short to medium term.”
“Europe cannot be caught unprepared for a second time… The EU will have to consider positively the allocation of further funds to those countries of the broader region of the Eastern Mediterranean route affected by immense migratory flows.”
The intervention by the three countries was part of their joint initiative called the Eastern Mediterranean Migration Route Initiative (EMMI).
According to official data from the European Commission and the European External Action Service reports, there were 1,133 arrivals via the Western Mediterranean / Atlantic route between 19 August and 1 September, another 1,369 via the Central Mediterranean route and 4,879 via the Eastern Mediterranean route.
Moreover, from 2 to 9 September, there were 736 arrivals via the Western Mediterranean / Atlantic route, 480 via the Central Mediterranean route and 2,707 arrivals via the Eastern Mediterranean route.
The EMMI insists that the EU must be prepared to face this new challenge and to make further resources available to countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Turkey.
Turkey has long complained that the EU support promised in exchange for keeping a lid on migration to Europe is inadequate given that it now hosts around 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
Two tranches of €3 billion of EU assistance to help Turkey coping with the refugees from Syria are almost spent. EURACTIV asked the Commission if it would disburse new aid which could serve ethnic cleansing. Commission spokesperson Maja Kocijancic repeated the Commission’s position that the conditions for the return of refugees in Syria have not been met.