Concrete steps needed from EU: Top Turkish diplomat

Turkey and the EU have initiated a new phase of dialogue but progress requires “concrete steps” by the EU, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Speaking at Anadolu Agency’s Editors’ Desk in the capital Ankara, Mevlut Cavusoglu said conditions have changed since March 2016, when Turkey and the EU first forged a deal on migrants.

“We will discuss [with the EU] what we can do [on refugees] under the new circumstances,” said Cavusoglu, adding that the EU should act honestly towards Turkey.

“Turkey needs the EU but the EU needs Turkey much more. Especially, if it wants to be a global actor,” Cavusoglu added.

He stressed that the 2016 deal is not for “Turkey to keep refugees” but it includes visa liberation for Turkish citizens, enabling safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees and accelerating Turkey’s EU accession process.

Cavusoglu criticized Europe for not welcoming refugees from the embattled province of Idlib, northwestern Syria, along Turkey’s southern border, and not providing support for people seeking asylum from there.

Europe's border does not start at the Turkish-Greek border, he said, but rather at Turkey's southern and eastern frontiers.

The 2016 deal aimed at discouraging irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of some 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

But since then the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has ballooned to 3.7 million or higher, along with a new refugee wave of a million or more coming from Idlib, Turkish officials have pointed out.

Ankara has also repeatedly decried Europe’s failure to keep its promises under the deal, including delivering less than half of €6 million ($6.8 billion) in funds to help the Syrians in Turkey.

Greek treatment of asylum seekers ‘shame for humanity’

Cavusoglu said that other countries must follow procedures on asylum seekers in line with international law, just as Turkey opened its doors.

He criticized the Greek treatment of asylum seekers waiting at the Turkish-Greek border, describing it as “a shame for humanity.”

Ankara recently announced that it would no longer try to stop asylum seekers from reaching Europe.

Thousands of asylum seekers since flocked to Turkey’s Edirne province -- which borders Greece and Bulgaria -- to make their way to Europe.

The Greek reaction to asylum seekers has been harsh, with many battered, attacked, or tear-gassed, and several killed by Greek forces.

Situation in Idlib

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed to a new cease-fire for Idlib effective as of midnight on March 5.

As part of the agreement, all military activities will end in Idlib and a security corridor will be established six kilometers (3.7 miles) deep to the north and to the south from the M4 highway.

If the Syrian regime tries to proceed heedless of the cease-fire in Idlib, Turkish forces will do as they have done before, Cavusoglu warned.

Mentioning that there was a minor violation of cease-fire on Monday, he said Turkey was informed that Russia rigorously warned the Assad regime.

He said the Syrian crisis could be solved when the attacks in the field end.

The M4 highway, also known as the Aleppo-Al Hasakah road, is about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Turkey's border.

Joint Turkish-Russian patrols along the highway will also begin on March 15, from the settlement of Trumba -- two kilometers (1.2 miles) to the west of Saraqib -- to the settlement of Ain al-Havr.

Under a 2018 deal with Russia, Turkish troops were in Idlib to protect civilians from attacks by the regime and its allies.

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