Turkey’s Erdogan leaves EU talks without agreement on migrants
Stern-faced EU leaders warned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to respect the terms of a previous deal to keep migrants away from Europe's borders, after the Turkish leader came to Brussels to demand more support.
There was no disguising the tension at the European Council after the talks, with Erdogan choosing to head straight for the airport rather than a news conference with EU presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.
"Clearly we do have our disagreements, but we have spoken plainly and we have spoken openly to each other," Von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, told reporters.
Von der Leyen and Michel both stressed that the 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey -- under which Ankara agreed to block migrants and refugees from heading to Greece in exchange for billions of euros in EU aid -- remains valid.
And Michel said that the top EU diplomat, Josep Borrell, would be working with his Turkish counterpart foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in the next few days "to be certain that we are on the same page that we have the same interpretation about what we do, in Turkey and at the level of the European Union, in order to implement the deal."
Erdogan did not speak to reporters after the meeting, despite Turkish officials saying earlier that he planned to do so. A Turkish presidential source said only: "The meeting at the EU was productive."
Beforehand, Erdogan had made clear that his priority was to seek more support for his country in the conflict in Syria and to cope with millions of refugees from the fighting.
Before heading to the European Council, he held talks with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, and told him bluntly: "NATO is in a critical process in which it needs to clearly show its alliance solidarity."
"Our allies should display their solidarity with our country without discrimination and without laying down political conditions," he said. "It is very important that the support we demand is met without any further delay."
Erdogan also appeared annoyed that - rather than listening to his concerns - Von der Leyen and Michel have backed Greece as Europe's "shield" against migrants encouraged to leave Turkey.
And he had harsh words for Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' Greek government, which has already been allocated 700 million euros ($800 million) by Brussels to secure his borders and cope with the new arrivals.
"It is irrational and inconsiderate that an ally and a neighbouring country point to Turkey as responsible for the irregular migration," Erdogan said. "We will not allow this country to try to get unfair gains by using its current position."
Mitsotakis did not take such talk lying down, responding furiously in an address to the German Council on Foreign Relations.
"Why do we spend so much on defence? It's because our neighbour is Turkey and not Denmark," he said. "As prime minister of Greece I don't have to listen to lessons on human rights from Turkey."
Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have been trying to break through the land border from Turkey for a week after Ankara announced it would no longer prevent people from trying to cross into the EU.
What migrants face on Lesbos – and why it's getting worse
Asylum-seekers stranded on the Greek island of Lesbos can expect things to continue to deteriorate: numerous NGOs that provide health, legal and other services are preparing to pull out or have already left. Vincent Haiges reports from Lesbos
Stuck in the Aegean: European funding for NGOs responding to the migrant crisis on the Greek islands came to an end in August. Since then the Greek state alone has been responsible for dealing with the asylum-seekers. But there was no clear transition plan and gaps in humanitarian services have become apparent across Lesbos
Neither here nor there: Moria, the main reception facility in Lesbos and other such camps are unable to cope with the continuing arrivals of small numbers of asylum-seekers. Tensions are high; frustration quickly turns into aggression, fights between individuals morph into fights between different ethnic groups
Fresh and clean: discarded shampoo and water bottles lie next to an improvised shower outside Moria. Due to a shortage of hygienic facilities in the camp, many people there look for other options. They see the failure to provide adequate facilities as a deliberate strategy to worsen living conditions
Waiting for a decision: Aman from Eritrea apologises for not being able to offer tea or water in his tent. He has been waiting for a decision on his asylum request since he arrived in Lesbos three months ago. "There are too many problems inside Moria." Overcrowded shelters and tensions between different groups often results into fights
'We are human': an Afghan asylum-seeker prepares signs for a protest against the poor conditions in Moria. Most of the Afghans protesting have been on Lesbos for over a year and are still waiting for a response to their asylum bids. Lack of information, tough living conditions and the fear of being deported back to Afghanistan means many of them are in a constant state of anxiety
The limits of generosity: residents of Lesbos discuss the Afghans' protest. The refugee crisis has led to a massive decline in tourism on Lesbos, down by almost 75 percent this year compared to 2015. Greece's ongoing economic crisis has also had a great impact on the island. Although many locals are sympathetic to the asylum-seekers's needs, they don't think Greece is capable of hosting them right now
Two weeks against helplessness: volunteers have been filling gaps, such as providing health care, which is in great demand. German doctor Juta Meiwald came to Lesbos for two weeks to help. She says many of the health problems are a result of the living conditions at Moria. Those in the camps have complained that, regardless of their afflictions, doctors there generally just give them painkillers
Reclaiming life: at the Mosaik Support Centre asylum-seekers transform life vests collected on the beach into bags and wallets. Activities like this are a welcome interruption to the monotony of life in the camps, in addition to giving those stuck here, like this Iranian woman, a small income
New arrivals every day: since early 2015, new arrivals have been obliged to stay on the island until their asylum claims are processed. But a backlog of applications and a lengthy appeals process have meant only a fraction of cases have been assessed. Over 14,000 migrants arrived in Greece this year, according to the UN refugee agency. Last year Greece granted asylum to around 12,500 people, while 173,000 came
Turkey, which hosts around four million mostly Syrian refugees, has repeatedly railed against what it describes as unfair burden-sharing.
Germany said the EU was considering taking in up to 1,500 child refugees to ease pressure on overwhelmed camps on Greek islands facing a new wave of arrivals from Turkey.
Von der Leyen said France, Portugal, Luxembourg and Finland had offered to join Germany in taking some.
On Friday, Erdogan ordered the Turkish coastguard to prevent risky Aegean sea crossings after more than 1,700 migrants landed on Lesbos and four other Aegean islands.
But Turkey's policy of allowing migrants and refugees to leave by land remains in place, and the instruction only affects sea crossings.
In 2016, Turkey and the EU agreed a deal whereby Brussels would provide billions of euros in aid in exchange for Turkey curbing the flow of migrants.
But Ankara has repeatedly accused the bloc of not fulfilling promises made as Europe suffered its worst refugee crisis since World War II, when over one million people fled to the continent in 2015.
Erdogan has felt extra pressure as nearly one million people in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib fled towards the Turkish border during a recent Syrian regime assault backed by Russia and Iran. (AFP)