Sunday 28 May 2017

Turkey in threat to open border for migrants

Erdogan hits back as EU suspends membership talks with Ankara

Migrants ask for help from a dinghy as they are approached by the SOS Mediterranee's ship Aquarius, background, off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. earlier this year.
Migrants ask for help from a dinghy as they are approached by the SOS Mediterranee's ship Aquarius, background, off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. earlier this year.

Zia Weise in Istanbul

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to throw open Turkey's gates for migrants and refugees after the European Parliament voted to suspend EU membership negotiations with Ankara.

"If you go any further, these border gates will be opened. Neither me nor my people will be affected by these empty threats," Mr Erdogan said at a women's justice congress in Istanbul yesterday.

"It wouldn't matter if all of you approved the vote," he added, referring to the European Parliament's motion a day earlier.

In March, Turkey and Brussels struck a deal aiming to prevent and discourage migrants from crossing the Aegean to neighbouring Greece - an agreement that has proven successful in limiting the flow.

The deal largely relied on Turkey's co-operation to take back rejected asylum seekers and patrol its sea and land borders.

In return, the EU pledged financial aid, visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and progress in Turkey's long-stalled accession talks.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

But this week, however, MEPs approved a motion calling on the European Commission and member states' governments to freeze Turkey's accession process in response to the Turkish government's "disproportionate" reaction to this summer's failed coup.

Amid an already deteriorating environment for free speech, the Turkish government has suspended more than 100,000 civil servants, arrested tens of thousands - including journalists, MPs, judges and lawyers - and shut hundreds of associations, NGOs and newspapers since July.

Allegations of torture and Mr Erdogan's announcement that he would consider reintroducing the death penalty has alarmed Europeans.

However, the European Parliament's vote is non-binding and member states are unlikely to take action.

Halting membership talks would be largely symbolic, as Turkey's accession process stalled soon after it began in 2005.

Turkey hosts an estimated 2.7 million Syrian refugees, but it is uncertain whether Europe would experience a similar influx to 2015 even if Mr Erdogan did act on his threat.

With Macedonia's border shut, refugees crossing to Greece would be stuck in overcrowded island camps where conditions have continually deteriorated since March.

Amid frosty relations with Ankara, Germany is considering moving military planes involved in the international mission against Isil from Turkey to Jordan, Kuwait or Cyprus.

A further sign of the growing frostiness between Turkey and Europe came yesterday when the German defence ministry revealed it was scouting alternative locations to the Incirlik Air Base at the request of parliament.

German politicians have repeatedly been prevented from visiting the base after passing a resolution that labelled killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide.

German daily 'Bild', which first reported the move yesterday, says military officials plan to travel to Amman on Saturday.

'Bild' reported that moving Germany's Tornado reconnaissance jets and a refuelling plane from the Turkey base would take several weeks.

The German air force planes aren't currently flying combat missions.

Last night, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed that he and Mr Erdogan discussed ways to resolve the Syria crisis in a phone call, the Kremlin said.

The Kremlin said in a statement the discussion on Syria was constructive and that both sides agreed to continue active dialogue via foreign and defence ministries, as well as via security services, to coordinate efforts in the struggle against international terrorism.

Separately yesterday, a 60-year-old woman and her five-year-old grandchild - both Kurds from Iraq - were killed when a gas cylinder exploded in Moria camp on Lesbos, triggering protests among the 4,000 migrants and refugees held in the facility. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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