A senior official announced the European Union is preparing to pay Turkey tens of millions of dollars to help boost its coast guard, as increasing numbers of migrants are fleeing Turkey for Greece and other parts of Europe.
“We have prepared a set of measures amounting to some 50 million euros ($55 million),” said Maciej Popowski, the deputy director-general for EU enlargement policy.
He said part of the money would help “improve the capacities of the Turkish coast guard to perform search-and-rescue operations.”
In 2015, over 1 million migrants entered Europe and the EU agreed to pay Turkey up to 6 billion to stop migrants from leaving the Turkish coast for Greece.
However, in the weeks prior to Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria last month, Ankara demanded more cash from Europe, claiming that the money, which is meant to help Syrians taking refuge on Turkish territory, was insufficient and that the EU has been too slow to provide it, with the Turkish government threatening to open its borders.
Greece is struggling to cope with an alarming rise in migrant arrivals over the last few months, particularly on the islands of Lesvos, Samos, and Kos, which are all near the Turkish coast.
The European Commission on Wednesday urged Greece to speed up the processing of migrants as a jump in new arrivals in its already overcrowded island camps pushed the situation to “unbearable” levels.
“In humanitarian terms, the EU-Turkey Statement is a tragedy,” Inma Vazquez, a representative for the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) that works in the camps, told the hearing in the European Parliament on Wednesday.
The Commission, she said, has asked Greece “to make it better, to have better proceedings to have an assessment of the cases case-by-case, but have a system that works.”
Vazquez said that the part of the deal with Turkey which would enable the EU to send back migrants not deemed to be refugees was not working and that arrivals this year were rising.
Greece’s minister for citizens’ protection, Michalis Chrisochoidis, said Greece is overwhelmed and can’t manage the current arrivals.
“We cannot manage so many people when they all arrive at the same time, we cannot do it,” he told the MEPs. Already, he said, there was a backlog of 68,000 asylum requests in Greece, with some applicants saying they have to wait three years for an interview to assess their case.
The head of the European bloc’s agency for fundamental rights, Michael O’Flaherty added that a trip he made to the Greek hot spots at the end of this month revealed the extent of the overcrowding, saying, “It’s my personal view that the situation of migrants on the Greek islands right now is the single most worrying fundamental rights issue that we’re confronting anywhere in the European Union.”