The European Union (EU) commissioner for neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations Johannes Hahn has pledged one billion euros to Turkey in order to assist the country’s efforts in hosting the 1.9 million Syrian refugees which have taken shelter in Turkey over the course of the Syrian civil war.
Syrian refugees escaping the violence in their country fled Syria in large numbers with the escalation of clashes between pro-regime and anti-Assad forces in 2012. One of their most preferred destinations was neighbouring Turkey, which hosts the most Syrian refugees in the world according to the registration records of the United Nations.
Thousands of mostly Syrian refugees have been marching towards western European countries using a route through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria.
Turkey is a transit point for refugees aiming to reach European countries from Syria because of its geography bridging the Middle East and Europe.
Turkish media outlets have recently reported that hundreds of Syrian refugees are marching towards Turkey’s western border in order to cross into Greece by land after a number of refugee boats recently capsized in the sea between Turkey and Greece, killing more than one hundred people.
Hahn described the current refugee crisis as a “defining challenge” of Europe, pointing to the fact that “there are 20 million refugees and internally displaced people,” only in the continent itself.
He said, “Money is crucial but it won't do the trick alone. We need to use all our policy tools to address the root causes,” referring to an urgent need to find a political resolution for the Syrian conflict.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week criticised the refugee policy of European countries, saying that the resolution of the refugee crisis could not be “closing the border gates, building wire fences and walls along borders.”
He said that the true way to resolve the the crisis would be to end conflicts in and bring representative governments to countries from which the flow of refugees has been most intense.
Hahn said, “Turkey is a key country for a solution,” praising Turkey’s hosting of 2 million refugees of whom only “a minority” live in camps.
He stated that his commission previously gave 175 million euros to Turkey for refugee aid and now it is “willing to do much more,” reallocating resources from the other EU programs of “up to one billion euros, if Turkey wants and agrees.”
However, in return, he asked Turkey to do a better job in terms of registration, readmission, and returns, and being “tougher on smugglers and traffickers.”
At the same time, the Commissioner drew attention to the enormous refugee burden placed on the countries neighbouring Syria, saying that four billion euros has already been spent by the EU and member states to help these countries. “But this is not enough! Needs are growing, especially in Lebanon and Jordan,” he stated.
“There are already more Syrian kids in school in Lebanon than Lebanese children, with several teaching shifts a day,” he added.
Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey has “spent about 6.5 billion dollars for [the refugee crisis] so far.” He will reportedly meet European leaders in Brussels on October four in order to discuss the refugee crisis and recent attacks by the outlawed PKK in Turkey.
Hahn rejected criticism of the Western Balkan states for their lax border controls and mistreatment of refugees, saying that they are not “a source of the problem but victims as transit countries.”
He warned that if the Western Balkans is allowed to become “a parking lot or no man's land for stranded refugees,” this will go down in European history as “a grave geostrategic mistake.”
Hahn also noted that the continent should not erect a “new iron curtain” to deal with the refugee crisis, saying the European success story has depended on mobility.
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel recently described European indecisiveness towards the refugee crisis as a “disgrace,” citing the most recent European Union interior ministers meeting which ended with a disagreement over quotas to distribute 120,000 refugees among member states.