Turkey has threatened to sabotage the refugee agreement with Europe if it did not offer visa-free travel to Turkish nationals within the Schengen Area.
In an interview with French daily Le Monde, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he will not help with the refugee crisis and accept returned refugees from Greece, unless Turks are given visa free travel as the EU had promised.
Ironically Turkey was given more than 1 billion euros in European Commission support as part of the refugee agreement.
“The European Union is not behaving in a sincere manner with Turkey,” Erdogan said, adding, “If our demands are not satisfied then the readmissions will no longer be possible.”
Turkey’s foreign affairs minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, reiterated Erdogan’s statement warning that Turkey will stop holding refugees back should the visa waiver program for Turkish nationals not be implemented.
“If the visa waiver doesn’t follow, we will have to withdraw from the deal which includes the relocation of refugees as well as the March 18 agreement,” Mr Cavusoglu told German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, adding that the refugee crisis was dealt with efficiently thanks to a series of “very serious measures” which were implemented by Ankara. “Yet all these (measures) depend on the waiver of a visa issue for our citizens; a crucial point of our 18th of March agreement.”
In the meantime, the refugee influx towards Europe for the most part through Greece has increased by up to 300 percent, taking a toll on tourism to four of the Greek islands bearing the brunt of the flows. Kos, Lesvos, Samos and Chios have seen their tourism traffic for 2016 drop by 300,000.
Indicatively, the island of Kos alone saw 245,000 seats cancelled with regard to booked airlines slots. According to Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) figures citing the Hellenic Slot Coordination Authority for regional airports, of the 1,213 million seats reserved by airlines in January, only 967 million were carried out, marking a 20 percent drop.
Greece watches on nervously as the crisis has strained its resources and affected its tourism.