Berlin (CNSNews.com) – The European Union has pledged 170 million euros ($189 million) in humanitarian aid relating to the Syrian crisis, and “access” to another 700 million euros ($779.5 million) for Greece, but has remained firm on keeping its borders closed to migrants.
The announcements come as thousands of displaced Syrians gather at Turkey’s border with Greece, a week after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared he would no longer stop migrants crossing into the E.U. – despite a 2016 agreement to prevent migrants from passing through to Europe in exchange for three billion euros ($3.3 billion).
E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced the package after an emergency meeting between European and Turkish officials in Turkey. He said 60 million euros ($66.8 million) of the earmarked funds would go specifically to northwestern, Syria, the border region adjacent to Turkey.
Borrell said he expressed the E.U.’s understanding of the difficult situation faced by Turkey, but also “stressed that the current developments at the European borders are not leading to any solution.”
“On the contrary it can only create problems and make the situation worse,” he said. “And the ones who will pay the price are the people – the Syrian refugees and migrants.”
Fears of a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis – which strongly divided E.U. members – have been sparked by intensifying violence in the Idlib region, where the Syrian regime, with Russian air support, has been trying since December to wrest back control of the last major stronghold of anti-Assad forces.
Erdogan said Wednesday Turkish officials were “not encouraging people moving to the [Turkey-Greece] border, but they cannot prevent people from doing so.”
Borrell reiterated the earlier E.U. position that European borders will remain closed.
“We have to try to avoid, by all means, that people believe that the border with Europe is open, and that just by presenting themselves in front of the border we will allow them to pass by. Because this is not the case.”
The International Organization for Migration reported at the weekend that more than 13,000 people had gathered at formal border crossing points, and another 3,000 at informal crossing points.
On Tuesday, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen voiced solidarity with Greece adding that the E.U. would not bow to pressure on its borders.
“Those who seek to test Europe’s unity will be disappointed,” she said. “We will hold the line and we will prevail.”
Von der Leyen said Greece would have access to 700 million euros for “migration management” and that the E.U. border force, Frontex, would dispatch a rapid deployment team and 100 additional border guards to Greece to bolster the 530 Frontex guards already stationed there.
Several E.U. members including Austria, Hungary France, and Germany, have voiced support for keeping the borders closed.
“Europe’s borders are not open for refugees from Turkey, and neither are our German borders,” tweeted a German interior ministry spokesman.
Thousands gathered in the German cities of Hamburg, Berlin, and Potsdam on Tuesday, demanding that Chancellor Angela Merkel open borders to migrants. Seebrücke, a human rights group that organized the protest, condemned the 2016 migration deal with Turkey, calling it “toxic.”
Asked about the E.U.-Turkey deal, Borrell on Wednesday defended the agreement, saying that it had been “very useful to support the refugees in Turkey.” He said there were no plans to end the arrangement.
“The situation in Idlib, which was not taken into consideration in 2016, now appears as an additional source of potential migrants and it calls for a continuous help, contribution and cooperation from the European Union,” he said.
Borrell did not address queries about whether the agreement would be updated, with a new assistance package for Turkey and a new system for the migrants who are going to pass from Greece further into Europe.
“What Turkey launched a couple of days ago is essentially an assault on Greece and on Europe - and specifically Greece,” said Tony Alexiou, principal at international geopolitical risk assessment firm The Minotaur Group.
He noted that Bulgaria, which also borders Turkey, has not been subject to waves of additional migrants.
“The E.U. is sending millions of euros and some personnel to assist with this problem because they finally can no longer ignore it,” Alexiou said. “The E.U. should have taken a more proactive stance at their southeastern border back in 2015.”