Migrant entries from Turkey on the rise, says EU border chief

Migrants take part in a protest outside the Moria camp, after the fatal stabbing of a migrant, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, on Friday. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 January 2020

Migrant entries from Turkey on the rise, says EU border chief

BRUSSELS: The number of migrants entering Europe from Turkey rose significantly last year as people fleeing strife in Syria and Afghanistan flooded into the country and then set out for Greece, the head of the EU’s border agency said Friday.

More than 82,000 migrants tried to enter Europe without authorization in 2019, an increase of 46 percent over the previous year, Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said in Brussels.

“This was mainly due to the situation in Syria, but also instability in Afghanistan, and changing policies toward Afghan nationals by Iranian and Pakistani authorities,” Leggeri told reporters. He refused to blame the Turkish coast guard, saying it is “working well” to intercept people who leave.

The EU agreed in 2016 to give Turkey up to €6 billion ($6.6 billion) in Syrian refugee aid money and other incentives to persuade the government in Ankara to stop migrants leaving for Greece. But since last summer, Greece’s eastern islands have struggled to ease severe overcrowding at refugee camps where outbreaks of violence frequently occur. On the Greek island of Lesbos, protests broke out Friday in front of the country’s largest refugee camp after an asylum seeker died of stab wounds. Several dozen migrants set fire to trash bins and blocked traffic outside the camp before riot police were called in to disperse them.

Authorities said the 20-year-old man from Yemen died while being taken to a hospital by ambulance late on Thursday following a clash at the Moria camp on Lesbos. A 27-year-old Afghan migrant was arrested in connection with the incident and was being questioned, police said.

Overcrowding at Moria has steadily worsened over the past year as the number of arrivals of migrants and refugees using clandestine routes from Turkey to the Greek islands remains high.

Frontex said the number of arrivals last year was the highest since the EU-Turkey deal came into force.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that his country cannot shoulder the burden of hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees alone and has in the past threatened to “open the gates” for migrants to head for Europe. He is seeking more EU money and the Europeans appear likely to acquiesce.

Ankara also sought EU political and financial help in setting up a safe area in northern Syria, where people fleeing the conflict could take refuge or be sent to from Turkey, but the Europeans are reluctant to get involved.

Pressure for Turkey lockdown grows, Erdogan vows to sustain economy

Updated 31 March 2020

Pressure for Turkey lockdown grows, Erdogan vows to sustain economy

  • Turkey has stopped all international flights and limited domestic travel
  • Authorities still haven’t ordered people to stay home
ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan is under growing pressure from unions and the opposition for a lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus, but insists that Turkey should “keep wheels turning” in the economy and that people continue going to work.
Ankara has stopped all international flights, limited domestic travel, closed schools, bars and cafes, suspended mass prayers and sports fixtures to counter the outbreak.
The authorities have not, however, ordered people to stay at home, even as the number of cases in Turkey has risen sharply. On Monday these reached 10,827, less than three weeks since Turkey registered its first case. The death toll jumped to 168, drawing fresh calls for tighter measures.
With Turkey emerging from a recession triggered by a 2018 currency crisis, Erdogan aims to avoid endangering the recovery by enforcing a stay-at-home order that would halt economic activity and has called instead for voluntary self-isolation.
Two leading union confederations called for a halt to all but emergency work and for measures to be implemented to support workers. “All work should be stopped for a minimum of 15 days except for the production of essential and emergency goods and services,” TURK-IS Chairman Ergun Atalay said in a statement.
He also called for a ban on layoffs for the duration of the pandemic and said income support should be provided to all workers who are experiencing loss of work and income. The DISK union confederation issued an identical statement.
The Turkish Medical Association said on Monday there were many mistakes in Ankara’s “inadequate” response to the pandemic, saying borders had been left open too long and that quarantine had not been imposed on most Turks returning from abroad.
“At this stage, the disease has spread to every part of the country, hence the opportunity to enforce a quarantine has gone,” it said in a statement.
It said that more than 30,000 tests needed to be carried out daily and that those testing positive needed to be properly isolated.
But after a cabinet meeting on Monday, Erdogan said it was necessary to maintain output to sustain the supply of basic goods and support exports.
“Turkey is a country that needs to continue production and keep the wheels turning under all conditions and circumstances.”
The main opposition CHP party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said measures imposed on senior citizens and the chronically ill should be extended to a nationwide “quarantine.”
“Inadequate” response
The CHP’s Istanbul mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, underlined the importance of a lockdown in the country’s biggest city, with a population of 16 million people — nearly a fifth of Turkey’s population.
“If 15% of the city’s population goes out that is 2.5 million people. As the weather gets better people will go out,” Imamoglu told Fox TV in an interview on Monday. “Even if they don’t do it for Turkey, a lockdown can be announced for Istanbul.”
On Monday, Erdogan also launched a campaign to collect donations from citizens for those in need, saying he was donating seven months of his salary to the cause and that the effort had already drawn $11 million.