Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed European Council President Donald Tusk on Friday to discuss measures regarding the refugee crisis ahead of next week's summit in Brussels.
The Istanbul meeting is the last of a regional tour for Tusk, who also visited Greece and Slovenia, ahead of a Turkey-EU summit in Brussels next week where the continuing flow of refugees will top the agenda.
The EU addressed the need to cut the number of refugees reaching Greece through Turkey as pressure for more border closures and fences increases.
Erdogan underlined in a meeting that Turkey did not close its doors to refugees, like Western countries did. The country always welcome them and will continue to leave their doors open.
The president urged European Union countries to share the burden in an attempt to cope with the refugee crisis.
“We demand you [EU countries] share the burden but you think that Turkey is opening its borders to the West and directing refugees there. Let’s cooperate and build a city in northern Syria, in a region close to Turkey,” Erdogan said.
“Mr. Obama also agreed upon this [city plan]. We have even determined the coordination but when it comes to implementation, we could not see any action. It’s a matter of decision,” he added.
The EU agreed to give Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) to keep Syrian refugees on its soil in return for an acceleration of the EU access talks and speeded-up visa liberalisation for Turks visiting Europe.
Erdogan also criticised the Western countries about their commitment to the promise that they would give 3 billion euros.
“The Western countries said that they would give us [Turkey] 3 billion euros. They promised four years ago but they have yet to give it,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan said Turkey ranks first if we consider aid as a percentage of GDP adding that the country spent $10 billion on refugees fleeing Syria in five years.
“Turkey is among the top three countries in helping refugees along with the US and the UK,” he said.
‘Turkey is ready to take back all refugees’
European Union officials said on Friday that Turkey was starting to cooperate to stem the flow of refugees to Europe, as Brussels outlined a timetable for restoring open borders by the end of the year.
European Council President Donald Tusk said that Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had told him ‘Turkey was ready to take back all migrants [refugees] apprehended in Turkish waters’.
Even Syrians "apprehended" in Turkish waters, including by NATO patrols, would be put back ashore in Turkey.
"For the first time since the beginning of the migration [refugee] crisis, I can see a European consensus emerging," Tusk said in a summit invitation letter to leaders.
"It is a consensus around a comprehensive strategy that, if loyally implemented, can help stem the flows and tackle the crisis," he added.
While Tusk was holding talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, the European Commission announced the first payouts from a 3 billion-euro ($3.3 billion) fund to help Ankara keep some 2.5 million Syrian refugees on Turkish soil.
EU envoy to Turkey Hansjorg Haber told reporters in Istanbul that 400 million euros had been disbursed on humanitarian aid and schooling for refugees.
Haber also said that Turkey needs to stop or significantly reduce the number of illegal refugees crossing into Europe by June 1, when a readmission agreement between Ankara and Brussels goes into full effect.
‘Turkey sees significant drop in number of refugees arriving’
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday that Turkey sees a significant decrease in the number of refugees arriving at its borders due to its changing visa regime.
"Turkey is fulfilling its mission within the frame of the immigration action plan," Cavusoglu told reporters in Athens.
"We are reviewing our visa regime, and we observe a significant drop in the number of refugees," he added.