Turkish leader: EU must act to forestall Afghan migrant wave

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The European Union should assist Afghans in Afghanistan and in neighboring countries to avoid a new migration wave, Turkey’s president told Greece’s prime minister in a telephone call Friday.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greece’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis discussed developments in Afghanistan in a rare call, as both countries worry over a potential influx of refugees fleeing the Taliban.

Erdogan’s office said he told Mitsotakis that “a new wave of migration will become inevitable if necessary measures are not taken” to help Afghanistan and neighboring countries, such as Iran, where Afghan migrants would head before trying to reach Turkey and Europe.

Erdogan also said that Turkey, which has reinforced its border with Iran, was discussing the issue of Afghan migrants with Tehran, according to a statement from his office. There’s been an increase in recent weeks in Afghans entering Turkey from Iran.

Meanwhile, Athens insists it will not allow a repetition of 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people crossed in smugglers’ boats to Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast, on their way to seek asylum in more prosperous EU countries.

Turkey has also expressed concern over the potential of large numbers of Afghans heading its way. On Thursday, Erdogan called on European nations to shoulder the responsibility for people fleeing the Taliban, warning that Turkey will not become Europe’s “refugee warehouse.”

Greece’s defense and citizens’ protection ministers visited the northeastern Evros land border with Turkey on Friday to view barriers against potential migratory pressure and other recently installed security systems.

Greece has bolstered border defenses since March 2020, when Turkey announced its frontier to Europe was open and encouraged thousands of migrants to head to the Greek side, leading to scenes of chaos.

Citizens Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said that while Greece is an EU member and supports human rights, “we can’t wait apathetically for the possible consequences.” Speaking during his visit to the Evros area, he added that Athens would not allow migrants to be used to put pressure on Greece.

“It is our decision to defend and secure our borders,” he said. “Our borders will remain safe and inviolate.”

Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos said Greece had examined ways to bolster the surveillance and guarding of its frontier, while Chrisochoidis noted that a border fence about 40 kilometers (25 miles) long had been constructed in Evros since the March 2020 events.

In Turkey, anti-migrant sentiment has been running high as the country grapples with economic woes, including high unemployment, that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We need to remind our European friends of this fact: Europe — which has become the center of attraction for millions of people — cannot stay out of (the refugee) problem by harshly sealing its borders to protect the safety and wellbeing of its citizens,” Erdogan said on Thursday.

“Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse,” Erdogan said.

The previous day, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the current priority was to evacuate Europeans and Afghan citizens who had worked with EU forces there, but that Greece “does not accept to be the gateway for irregular flows into the EU.”

Speaking on private Skai TV, he noted that Greece does not border Afghanistan, and “there are countries to the east of us who could provide initial protection where necessary.” Turkey, he added, was a safe country for Afghans.

But Turkey already hosts 3.6 million Syrians who fled the civil war in the neighboring country and 300,000 Afghans.

In 2016, Turkey and the EU signed a deal for Turkey to stop the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees heading toward Europe, in return for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and substantial EU financial support.

Erdogan has frequently accused the EU of not keeping its side of the bargain, while the deal led to thousands of asylum-seekers languishing in squalid refugee camps on the eastern Greek islands.

The migration issue has also led to flare-ups in tension between Greece and Turkey, NATO allies who have come to the brink of war several times since the mid-1970s.

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Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

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Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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