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Turkey's Erdogan to visit Brussels as EU remains determined to keep vulnerable refugees out

Greek authorities have been accused of attacking migrants and refugees [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 March, 2020

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Thousands of refugees and migrants have gathered at Turkey's border with Greece, where they have been met with tear gas and water cannons.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to visit Brussels on Monday, his office said amid a charged conflict between Turkey and the European Union over refugees.

Thousands of refugees and migrants headed for Turkey's land and sea borders with Greece after Erdogan said last week that Ankara would no longer prevent migrants and refugees from crossing over to EU territory.

Greece deployed riot police and border guards to repel people trying to enter the country from the sea or by land.

Greek riot police used tear gas and a water cannon to drive back migrants attempting to cross its land border with Turkey on Friday. Turkish police fired volleys of tear gas back toward Greece.

Similar scenes occurred throughout the past week, with Greek authorities accused of shooting, beating, stripping and robbing migrants.

A statement from Erdogan's office said he would travel to Brussels on March 9. The statement did not specify where he would be during his one-day visit or the nature of the work taking him to the Belgian capital, but the European Union's headquarters are in Brussels.

The announcement came hours after EU foreign ministers meeting in Croatia on Friday criticized Turkey, saying it was using the migrants' desperation "for political purposes".

Read more: Greek forces 'violently push back' refugees as Turkey uses them as 'pawns of foreign policy'

Refugees at the Greek-Turkish border are living in poor winter conditions [Getty]

Speaking to CNN, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a pact between Brussels and Ankara that has since 2016 limited migration to Europe is "dead".

"It's dead because Turkey has decided to completely violate the agreement, because of what happened in Syria," he said, referring to the deaths of 34 Turkish soldiers in the war-torn country, an event that prompted Turkey to open its borders.

"They have systematically assisted, both at land and at sea, people in their effort to cross into Greece," Mitsotakis alleged.

The move alarmed EU countries, where right-wing and anti-migrant politics have grown popular in the five years since a mass wave of migration caused shocking scenes at Turkey's borders with Europe. 

The Turkish president has demanded that Europe shoulder more of the burden of caring for refugees. But the EU insists it is abiding by a 2016 deal in which it gave Turkey billions in refugee aid in return for keeping Europe-bound asylum-seekers on its soil. 

Ankara says the EU refused to keep its side of the bargain by not fulfilling improved visa and trade rules promised in the deal. The Turkish government has also repeatedly claimed that Brussels failed to provide Erdogan's government with all six billion euros ($6.7 billion) pledged in the pact.

In a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, Erdogan said the Turkey-EU migration deal is no longer working and needs to be revised, according to the Turkish leaders's office.

The European foreign ministers acknowledged Turkey for hosting millions of migrants and refugees, but said the 27-nation EU "strongly rejects Turkey's use of migratory pressure for political purposes. This situation at the EU external border is not acceptable".

They said the EU was determined to protect its external borders.

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