The European Union’s bad start to the year has taken another turn for the worse. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision last week to step back from a 2016 deal that halted the flow of migrants from the Middle East into Europe, has sparked fears of a new crisis.
The exact numbers of how many people are leaving Turkey for Europe are difficult to locate. Erdogan claimed at the weekend that the numbers would “reach 25-30,000,” adding that Turkey “will not close the doors. EU should keep its promises.” The Greek foreign office responded on Twitter, stating that the “numbers cited by Turkish authorities are entirely false and misleading.”
This comes after Turkish claims that a Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive – including an airstrike last Friday in the Syrian province of Idlib – killed 51 Turkish military personnel. Idlib is one of the last rebel holdouts in Syria and fears of a return to full-scale conflict has raised concerns of more Syrian migrants heading to the Turkish border. According to the UNHCR, Turkey hosts 4.1 million refugees, including 3.7 million Syrians. Turkey backs some rebel groups in Syria, which is why it has troops inside Idlib.
Turkey’s main complaint is that the EU has not kept to its side of the agreement – providing economic incentives and support in exchange for dealing with the surge.
Turkey says the EU is not sending money to Turkey fast enough to adequately respond to the crisis. It also believes that those economic incentives, which included making EU visas easier to obtain for Turkish citizens, the potential for increased trade, and re-energized efforts to help Turkey join the bloc (a process that usually comes with fistfuls of EU cash) have not materialized.
The EU rejects this claim. An EU Commission spokesperson told CNN that the EU was sticking to its side of the deal, pointing out that the EU had committed over $6.6 billion dollars to handling the crisis, $3.5 of which has already been spent. The source pointed out that Turkey’s objections might have more to do with the fact that the money does not go directly to the Turkish government.